Is it worth even trying to preserve our privacy anymore?
Do you appreciate that Amazon keeps track of all your reading material and will send you an e-mail telling you that your favorite author has a new paperback? Just click right here and we’ll send it to you. Remember the (appropriate) furor when Homeland Security wanted libraries to tell them what books people were reading?
Facebook doesn’t force us to gush out all our private information into cyberspace, but we do.
We can refuse to participate in this Brave New World. Though I don’t how it is very practical.
But the next assault on our privacy will not allow you to opt out. The Constitution protects our property rights. Even the police need a warrant to come in. But it never occurred to the Founding Fathers that we would enter the era of cheap, remote-controlled drones equipped with cameras.
You can expect police departments and the feds to ramp up their use of these devices. So far they are forbidden for commercial use, but that may change unless we take action. We have been using military drones in the Middle East for some time. They are being used to kill terrorists and for surveillance. But here at home there has been a growing market of small electronic devices that are operated from the ground.
A television station could use one to monitor traffic. Environmentalists have used them to follow Japanese whalers. It won’t be long before law enforcement officers will replace noisy, intrusive, and expensive helicopters with drones to fly over suspected marijuana fields. Or just to check out your back yard. Should we make it legal for real estate agents to use a drone to fly over and photograph houses they are trying to sell? Or include pictures of the whole neighborhood?
A person has a reasonable expectation of privacy unless they are in a public place. News photographers can stand in the road or on the sidewalk and take photos but they can’t come on your property without permission. But what happens when the paparazzi start using camera drones to fly over back yards or privacy fences? The sky is currently a “public place.”
It is breathtaking to consider the erosion of privacy in the life of average American in recent years. And no one has forced it on us. We have done it to ourselves. In the name of convenience we have invited Big Brother into our lives.
The biggest, most successful and most valuable companies in America are built on our surrender of our private information: Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
Google Maps snapshots already exist, though the use of drones will vastly increase the amount of privacy lost.
But of course we get nervous when the politicians start talking about regulating the Internet. And given the level of discourse and the intelligence level we have been seeing out of Congress lately, it is scary to think about them trying to legislate safeguards.
But should there be an extension of the privacy of the air space over your property? How low can a drone fly? Can it hover on your patio and take photos through the sliding glass door? Can your neighborhood perv buy one and check out your sunbathing daughter by your swimming pool? Can we use one to check out nuclear plants or national laboratories? Or industrial espionage of testing areas at industrial plants?
We’ve pretty much surrendered our privacy rights in cyberspace. But we really need to consider whether we ought to give up our privacy in the “real world.” Of course, any photos a drone takes of your back yard can be put on the Internet.
In their novels, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell imagined government remakes of society and the loss of individual freedom. They never imagined we would all line up and volunteer to participate.