New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently suggested that the city might soon begin implementing a domestic drone program as an advanced measure of law enforcement. Drones would be a powerful addition to the already powerful NYPD, which is considered to be the seventh largest army in the world. Bloomberg concedes that the idea of drones hovering over New York is somewhat frightening, but he maintains that it is inevitable.
When we leave our homes and venture out into the street, we automatically relinquish some of our privacy not only because of the thousands of surveillance cameras installed on streets and buildings, but also because anyone with a recording device can be observing our lives. And according to Bloomberg, drones are just the latest development in this inescapable trend towards greater security measures. He also contends that drones are equivalent to surveillance cameras, with respect to their purpose and legality.
However, should we as informed citizens and active participants in society unwaveringly accept Bloomberg’s realpolitik position that this is just how the world works and nothing can be done to change it? Certainly this is a flawed and dubious proposition, for development of drones is not a law of nature — drones do not just proliferate by themselves. They are a product of conscious decision-making by Bloomberg and other elected officials. The mayor is essentially circumventing a substantive debate about the legality and effectiveness of drones. Furthermore, he is freeing himself of any blame directed toward him.
While drones, a product of advanced technology, are a tenable answer to enhanced security, a major contention remains unresolved: Will we have the same institutional rights in a post-drone era than we did in a pre-drone era? Bloomberg does not see a distinction between surveillance cameras and drones, but we have a legal right to know when we are entering a surveilled area. And because drones necessarily blur the lines of what we typically think of as surveilled areas, a distinction must somehow be made.
Granted, intelligence is more accessible in the post-drone era, which can mean a big disincentive for crime, safer streets for New York and a more effective legal process. But it can also mean a distortion between intelligence used to combat crime and personal information unjustly used against an individual. Before we implement a policy as cumbersome as domestic drones, we must ensure the legal rights of individuals are not compromised or manipulated by an omnipresent government. And if the last two years of political buffoonery are any evidence of the future, such an extreme cession of civil liberties to our government cannot be taken seriously without a substantive discourse and codified limitations of the programs.
Although these efforts may be directed to ensuring security, whether they lead to a peaceful and cohesive society is a separate issue. The increasing Orwellian presence in our lives only instigates and perpetuates fear of one another and of our government— consequently, this leads to an atomization of the individual and the fragmentation of society at large.
A version of this article was published in the Monday, March 26 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]