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Domestic Surveillance Drones Could Spur Tougher Privacy Laws 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the looking-for-that-silver-lining dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Have you ever been spied on by a surveillance drone? No? Are you sure? Maybe it looked like a hummingbird. Or an insect. Or maybe it was just really high up. Maybe there's one looking in your window right now, and if so, there's no law that says it shouldn't. In a recent article in the Stanford Law Review, Ryan Calo discusses how domestic surveillance drones would fit into the current legal definitions of privacy (and violations thereof), and how these issues could inform the future of privacy policy. The nutshell? Surveillance robots have the potential to fundamentally degrade privacy to such an extent that they could serve as a catalyst for reform."
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Domestic Surveillance Drones Could Spur Tougher Privacy Laws

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  • by Kenja (541830) on Monday December 19, 2011 @03:55PM (#38426082)
    Only laws I would expect to be passed regarding such things is that it would be legal for them to be used on us, but illegal for us to use them. But perhaps I'm just a cynical bastard.
  • Frog metaphor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Monday December 19, 2011 @03:57PM (#38426098) Homepage

    More likely the frog-in-boiling-water metaphor will apply, as the gradual decline in privacy (up to the present and going forward) prevents most people from noticing just how hot things are getting.

  • More gov't abuse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:08PM (#38426222) Homepage Journal

    More government abuse.

    There is something absolutely wrong with the people, when they allow the government workers any more entitlements and rights than the citizens have. Since when is it OK for a private individual to stalk another private individual in their own house, setting up bugs and cameras and recording devices, etc?

    Realize this: if it's not OK for a private individual, then it's not OK for a government either. Government is just a bunch of individuals that have been given enormous amounts of power over other individuals.

    If you don't see a problem with some individuals having huge amounts of power over other individuals, then you have no imagination.

  • Re:Sounds like FUD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:19PM (#38426366) Journal

    You still need a warrant if the surveillance is directed at an individual. And if it's just patrolling, how is that any different than a cop walking his beat?

    Surveillance technologies bring two main changes to the table, even when otherwise analogous to some prior method:

    1. Economics: There is no legal problem with having cops walking 100% of the legally public beats 100% of the time. Economically, though, there just aren't enough cops to do that. In practice, one of the major protections from the state historically enjoyed by most people is not law; but simple lack of resources. It may be legal to have a cop follow you on a public road, and determine your route; but that cop isn't cheap, so you'll have to attract some suspicion first. Slapping a $100, reusable, magnetic GPS bug on your car, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly cheaper than having a $50,000/yr cop following you. Even if the two are analogous, the level of protection enjoyed in one case is far lower than in the other.

    2. Retention: Humans, by necessity, have lousy memories. Our eyes just slide right over mundane happenings and they fall away almost immediately. Storage of electronic surveillance data, on the other hand, is cheap and getting cheaper(and easier to automatically search). Trying to track the routes of all motorists in a city based on data from the beat cops would be essentially impossible. Doing the same from an equivalent number of license-plate cameras? Hard; but tractable.

    The crux of the matter is that, as cost decreases and retention increases, 'just patrolling' and 'surveillance directed at an individual' stop being distinct categories: the agents that are 'just patrolling' gather and retain enough data that (proactively or retroactively) turning that patrol into surveillance is essentially just a matter of doing the DB lookup. We haven't reached that point yet; but basically any advance in the cost or capability of automated surveillance technology moves us closer. Patrolling and targeted surveillance aren't fundamentally different, they are different because human agents are really bad at patrolling, and have to be given quite different orders if you want them to get useful data on a specific target. If an agent is good at patrolling, all people that pass within its view are effectively surveilled...

  • 4th Amendment ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:22PM (#38426402) Homepage

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    I'm sure people will come up with all of the ways in which the 4th Amendment couldn't possibly apply here (ZOMG, you're out of your house, how could you possibly expect privacy), but really I've always assumed that this is exactly where it should be applied.

    This whole "oh well, this technology bypasses the strict wording of that" is just moving the goalposts to sat that if it wasn't specifically prohibited, it must be OK.

    No warrant, no probably cause ... no dragnet and broad automated surveillance. The US isn't supposed to allow domestic spying without probable cause and judicial oversight. This record everybody and figure it out later is pretty much the opposite of a free society.

    Sadly, terrorism, protecting the children, and copyright all seem to more or less allow one to circumvent these things.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:25PM (#38426454) Journal

    What is speaks to is that big government is FUNDAMENTALLY abusive. Once you have enough bureaucracy that the elected office don't know what is going on you lose accountability.
    People are generally good, when they are accountable, when they think none are looking or nobody will ever know it was them the results are often tragic. You don't powerful mechanism to keep doing right either, no more threat than the disapproving stares of others is usually required. Government needs to be small enough, it terms of both dollars and head count that its always and immediately clear who the responsible parties are whenever a questionable activity happens.

    Our modern representative democracy is really just a tyranny of bureaucracy. Virtually unaccountable, and above the law.

  • by mbone (558574) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:27PM (#38426468)

    Here is my answer to the inevitable "it's public, and you have no expectation of privacy."

    Suppose that the mayor or governor where you live doesn't like you, and arranged so that whenever you left your house, there was a squad car (or foot patrol) waiting on the street, and they followed you where-ever you went. If you go in a store, they're just down the aisle. If you go to church, they sit in the next pew. If you go to a bar, they are there a few feet away. At no time do they invade your house, or touch you, but they are always there, watching and listening.

    You have just described the life of a dissident in Eastern Europe, circa 1975-1985. If you think this is OK, or normal, or part of a civilized society, you are crazy.

    If you think that it is OK to do all of this with machinery instead of people, you are also crazy. It's no different if it is a goon or a robotic gnat.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:41PM (#38426638) Journal

    It is different, Its worse, eventually you will notice the goon. It might escape your attention for years that a small GPS tracker disguised to look like a fuel filter or something else the ought to be there has been attached to the underside of your car.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Monday December 19, 2011 @04:56PM (#38426784)

    That's a false dilemma. The observed effect is primarily caused by people that deliberately vote for politicians that work to undermine the government. You definitely can have big good government, but it requires that the voters reward politicians that act in their interest rather than punishing them.

    Also, sunshine laws and bulletproofing the FOIA process would do wonders. For all the whining by the right about the evils of government, I don't see any particularly compelling evidence that corporations or the people in general are any more trust worthy.

  • by JesseMcDonald (536341) on Monday December 19, 2011 @05:10PM (#38426922) Homepage

    It's hard to tell which is crazier these days—the USA or everywhere else. Normally I'd say the USA, but then I hear about someone threatened with arrest for monitoring his own house... What possible expectation of privacy can there be for something which can be seen from a public street, inside someone else's house?

    This whole "right to privacy" nonsense has gone too far. The right to privacy legitimately extends only so far as the right to keep things private. Once something becomes public, e.g. plainly visible from a public street, your desire for privacy no longer applies.

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