Media critics and the public at large are becoming increasingly alarmed about a slew of recent technological advancements such as drones and next-generation DVRs that pose threats to the personal privacy rights of average citizens.
Even politicians have taken notice. On February 9th Rep. David Taylor, an Olympia, Washington legislator, introduced legislation to ban drones from the surrounding skies in order to protect the privacy rights of the city's citizens.
The "spy-in-the-sky" drone is just the latest example of a technology that could potentially be used to violate the privacy rights of ordinary Americans. One of the more egregious examples of privacy-invading technologies is Verizon's newly-patented DVR which once placed in your living room will not only record you favorite TV programs but also your every movement and word. This DVR is equipped with a TV camera aimed right at you and your family that will use your words and actions to sense your “state of mind” as well as your product preferences. This information will be sent to a program that in turn will televise a regimen of ads tailored just for you.
Verizon’s set-top box will be able to even parse words from your living room conversations and detect your moods to better market to you. For example, this next-generation DVR can sense a particular viewer’s stress-level and instantaneously order up an advertisement for a vacation or aromatherapy to be aired in the next commercial break.
Questions abound. Will consumers have the choice to opt-out of such a service? Will government agencies, including law enforcement officials, be privy to this ongoing record of your words and actions? What if someone hacks the Verizon DVR and can now have an open window on your family's most private moments?
Everyone, it seems, is being tracked, by video cameras, their own smart phones, and E-Z pass devices connected to GPS equipment. And until recently we seem to have accepted this state of affairs.
Now surveillance is taking to the skies. Soon, it will not be easy to avoid the probing eyes of drones flying over cities equipped with monitoring and sensing devices. Local and federal agencies plan to fly at least 30,000 of these unmanned planes over American cities and suburbs. These drones will be equipped with powerful cameras able to monitor ordinary citizens’ behavior.
One can thank President Obama for these "spies in the skies" that will soon be invading the privacy of every US citizen. This month Obama signed a law compelling the FAA to "fully integrate" drones into U.S. airspace by no later than 2015 as a way to fight crime and terrorism.
Thankfully, some Americans are fighting back at this latest invasion of privacy, at least in Seattle and a few other cities. Last year the Federal Aviation Administration gave Seattle’s law-enforcement agencies approval to train operators in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones. With money from a regional Homeland Security grant, the Seattle police department purchased two 3.5-pound Draganflyer X6 Helicopter Tech drones.
When citizens discovered that these unmanned drones would subject their everyday movements to law-enforcement agencies' scrutiny, they protested, so loudly and in such numbers that Mayor Mike McGinn pulled the plug on the department’s drone program even before it got off the ground.
An ACLU spokesperson applauded the decision. “Drones would have given police unprecedented abilities to engage in surveillance and intrude on people’s privacy,” he said, adding that “there was never a strong case made that Seattle needed the drones for public safety.”
Such debates are taking place across the US as law-enforcement agencies seek to utilize drone technology. Charlottesville, Va. ordered a two-year moratorium on the citywide use of unmanned aircraft, supposedly the first US city to do so.
Some believe that the invasion will cease only when members of the global and national elite—the world’s superrich and ultra-powerful—find themselves subject to unwanted public scrutiny. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gave the international political establishment a taste of its own medicine when his organization intercepted and made public thousands of emails of politically powerful individuals. Over the last few years Anonymous, the global “hackavista” group, has broken into the private files and databases of everyone from the Arizona police department to the Greek government. Even the FBI.
This week the world learned that the personal e-mails and files of the Bush family (yes, that Bush family) have been pilfered and made public by a “lone hacker” named “Guccifer” and published on TimeWarner’s website thesmokinggun.com.
As the public becomes more techno-savvy, it is safe to say they will learn how to resist and frustrate the more obvious sources of privacy destruction, such as snooping DVRs and eye-in-the-sky aerial drones, either through personal choice or collective civic action.
Citizens must also get into the habit of not participating in this erosion of their personal privacy through revelatory comments and photos they broadcast to any and all through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
It is hard enough to keep the prying eyes of government and corporations out of your personal business. You should not feel compelled to help them along through voluntary self-exposure.