Privacy

by Glyn Moody


Filed Under:
drones, privacy, surveillance society



Drone Attack: How We Might Willingly Embrace The Surveillance Society

from the poisoned-chalice dept

It's striking how drones have passed from a mysterious weapon used to wreak destruction in distant lands to something that could well become a familiar sight in the skies of the US and Europe. Meanwhile, the technology is progressing rapidly, allowing drones to fly in synchronized swarms and even to be printed out by the sheet. But what might some of the effects on our daily lives be -- for example in the sphere of privacy?

That's what an interesting post by David Eaves begins to explore. As he points out, some uses of drones seem so sensible that it would be almost irresponsible not to adopt them:

it is entirely conceivable that, in 5-7 years, there could be drones that would follow your child as he walks to school. You can of course, already choose to monitor your child by giving them a cell phone and tracking the GPS device within it, but a drone would have several advantages. It would be harder for someone to destroy or "disconnect" from your child. It could also record and save remotely everything that is going on - in order to prevent anyone from harassing or bullying them. It might even remind them to look both ways before crossing the street, in case they forget. Or, because of its high vantage point, it could pick out and warn your child of cyclists and cars they failed to observe. Once your kid is safely at school the drone could whiz home and recharge in time to walk them home at the end of the day. This may all seem creepy to you, but if such a drone cost $100 dollars, how many parents do you think would feel like it was "the responsible thing to do." I suspect a great deal.
There are plenty of other obvious applications:
Protestors might want a drone observing them, just so that any police brutality could be carefully recorded for later. Cautious adults may want one however over them, especially when going into an unfamiliar or unsafe neighborhoods. Or maybe you'll want one for your elderly parents... just in case something happens to them? It's be good to be able to pull them up on a live feed, from anywhere.
But as Eaves points out, something important is happening here on the privacy front:
My larger point is that the pressure to create the surveillance society isn't going to come exclusively from the state. Indeed, we may find ourselves in a surveillance society not because the state demands it, but because we want the tools for our own useful and/or selfish ends.
It's the Facebook effect: people know that by using the service they are giving up lots of personal information, but that's a price they seem willing to pay in order to gain the benefits of social networking. Similarly, as drones continue to fall in price and become smaller with longer ranges, people may be willing to start monitoring themselves, even though there is always the risk of information leaking to third parties -- or being demanded by the authorities, just as information is obtained from Internet service providers today.

Given the continuing success of Facebook despite the well-publicized issues around privacy, there's probably not much we can do to stop people adopting drones in these ways -- and why should we, when they obviously offer clear benefits in many situations? The best we can do is to encourage people to think through the consequences of taking this road before we set off down it, accompanied by our swarm of personal drones.

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  1. icon
    PW (profile), 16 Mar 2012 @ 9:39am

    "The best we can do is to encourage people to think through the consequences of taking this road before we set off down it, accompanied by our swarm of personal drones."

    I'm not sure I understand this statement. To what end? So they think about it and our privacy is still invaded. Not just that of the drone owners' but also that of anyone who may not be a drone owner who is now being picked out by all the drones in the sky. Add facial recognition tech and now things get goofy. Gov't can get access to everyone's feed and piece together the movements of anyone whether they own a drone or not (oh yeah, try to stop them ;). Heck, this beats the London and NYC's efforts to stick surveillance cameras everywhere and relies on individuals' fears (oh yeah, it's for the children ;) much like the Patriot Act did, in order get this to happen w/o gov't mandate.

    What's even more ironic is that the control we hope to gain from having such surveillance is a fiction. What actually happens is that we lose greater control over deciding how this new information about our person is used. Don't forget, once digitized information is very very hard to control with or without laws guarding its use. We learned this lesson with how info about us is currently collected, stored, aggregated and disseminated online through all of these social services. The entertainment industry also learned this lesson with music, books and movies. It will happen with this drone data too.

    Hence, thinking about how we deal with our info online hasn't done any good other than increase its reach and distribution.

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