Yesterday in the New York Times op-ed section a writer was discussing “personal-size” drones. I did not realize there was such a thing. Apparently our media supplies cell phones that work as cameras to people in places like Syria where reporters are not allowed. Those who receive the cell phones take pictures of the demonstrations and especially any violence by country leaders and/or military groups. However, it seems that the quality of these pictures is not great. They are often out of focus or grainy and may be unusable by the media. Now it is possible to own a small personal drone for the bargain price of $400,000 which can be programmed to hover over violent demonstrations or terrorist training areas or any other area that might interest our media or our intelligence services and which can send back pictures that are clear and detailed. These drones can zero in on individual people and can identify perpetrators and victims and even specific injuries.
Every advantage, of course, has another side which can turn it into a disadvantage. We are definitely in the age of “big brother”, predicted in 1984 by George Orwell. George did not know about computers. He imagined that our TV’s would spy on us and maybe they do or will. But obviously technology has progressed to the point where we can be spied on in any number of ways. There are cameras connected to computers that watch to see whether or not we stop at a red light. These computers can look up our license numbers and ticket us through the mail. OK, not so bad, we did break a law. There are cameras in every store to catch shoplifters. We’re used to these cameras; they’ve been around a long time. We understand that an entrepreneur must protect his/her investment. There are cameras mounted in high crime neighborhoods to catch criminals in the act and help protect the more peaceful neighbors. And now there are drones, which can be directed from remote locations to hover over a neighborhood or an individual, with or without the knowledge of those being watched.
So far these uses of surveillance seem fairly benign and even helpful to those of us who are peaceful and law-abiding or who need the exposure that only the media can provide for our cause. However, we cannot help but hear alarm bells and feel that “big brother” is indeed watching. We know that the same cameras, computers, drones that can be used to protect us might be used to control us. We know freedom is very easy to lose and must be consistently safeguarded or it will slip away. Recognizing the line between invasive governmental control and protection is something we are beginning to experience difficulty with right now. This line will continue to move and our challenge will be to know when we reach the point where the line must be drawn.