Debate over privacy
moves to top of agenda
A drone like this one could appear soon in the sky above your home.
IF THERE IS one concept that can summarize the zeitgeist of 2013, those In the K(n)ow would pick “surveillance.”
As the clock ticks down to a Gregorian-calendar new year, we can look back and see this topic as the most discussed and analyzed during the past 12 months.
Not only, however, in the narrow sense of government and corporate spying on everyone.
We also got a taste of the future – 2014 and further out – with skies full of drones capable of watching everyone, everywhere all the time.
Seems like George Orwell was only about 30 years off in his prediction of a total surveillance society so eloquently expressed in the novel “1984.”
THE PUBLIC discussion of government surveillance rose to the front pages around the middle of 2013 – and stayed there through year’s end.
After a torrent of public reports on hitherto secret spying by the US and UK governments, enabled many would say by massive data accumulation by private companies, the year ended with a federal judge ruling the global dragnet is constitutional.
This was reported Dec. 27 in The New York Times in the story Judge Upholds N.S.A.’s Bulk Collection of Data on Calls.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced his company’s drone delivery research on the 60 Minutes show.
“A federal judge ruled that a National Security Agency program that collects enormous troves of phone records is legal, making the latest contribution to an extraordinary debate among courts and a presidential review group about how to balance security and privacy in the era of big data,” the story reported.
It also noted the fast-paced developments of the previous weeks.
“In just 11 days, the two judges and the presidential panel reached the opposite of consensus on every significant question before them, including the intelligence value of the program, the privacy interests at stake and how the Constitution figures in the analysis.”
This was the culmination of an intensifying public debate sparked by the release of secret documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who proudly proclaimed his “mission accomplished” in an interview with The Washington Post just before Christmas.
Vanishing privacy is without doubt a vitally important topic for public discussion, and it is a welcome development that it is getting the attention it deserves, thanks to an increasingly prominent whistleblower.
But electronic snooping on global communications is just one aspect of it.
There is another, looming in the wings, potentially far more sinister.
We first wrote about it Nov. 25 in Drones will soon be buzzing in the sky above you when we said:
“It is an absolute certainty that the skies above modern metropolises and the surrounding countryside will soon be buzzing with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (aka drones).”
Just a few days later, on Dec. 1 this was confirmed – albeit in another context unconnected to surveillance – by none other than the owner of Amazon, the largest online retailer.
In an appearance on the widely watched CBS news magazine 60 minutes entitled
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos looks to the future, Bezos disclosed to Charlie Rose that his firm is researching delivery to its 225 million customers by drone.
The public relations stunt was just in time for the holiday shopping season, in case you missed the coincidence.
While immediate gratification by drone delivery may seem a distant dream, the fact that it is not considered science fiction portends its imminent reality.
The real significance of Bezos’ claims is that the technology is sufficiently advanced for them to be minimally credible.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden announced his “mission accomplished” in an interview with The Wahsington Post.
This was confirmed in a Christmas Day editorial in The New York Times headlined
The Dawning of Domestic Drones.
“The unmanned aircraft that most people associate with hunting terrorists and striking targets in Pakistan are on the brink of evolving into a big domestic industry. It is not a question of whether drones will appear in the skies above the United States but how soon,” the editorial says.
The looming appearance of hordes of drones on the horizon for a multitude of purposes raises huge privacy issues that have not been thoroughly explored by anyone anywhere.
According to The New York Times, one group is raising the alarm.
“The A.C.L.U.’s national office is warning that while drones could have many benefits like search-and-rescue work and tracking dangerous criminal situations, the law’s lack of privacy mandates will inevitably invite “pervasive surveillance” of the public,” the editorial says.
It is frightening.
As if snooping on electronic communications – which have become indispensible to modern life – is not scary enough, soon we could be exposed to snooping over our backyard fence, into our living rooms and bedrooms.
As we ponder what’s ahead for the new year, one of the items at the top of our list should be our notion of privacy. The line between public and private has become blurred beyond recognition. Most are only subliminally aware of this.
Truly private space is likely to become ever more scarce in the years ahead. This is a vitally important topic for each and every one of us as we enter a new calendar year.
Let us hope it is a happy new year.
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