4. TSA Moves From Your Underwear To Your Starbucks. Wired reports: “Not content with fondling your privates and banning liquids from entering the concourse, the Transportation Security Administration is apparently now also screening liquids bought by passengers after they’ve already gone through regular security screening…” Because, you know, if you’re putting something you bought from the airport into your own mouth, there’s a chance you might have added explosives to it. Supposedly it’s nothing new, just “part of random screening techniques” that have been going on since 2007. Sounds to me like yet another example of overbroad TSA policies resulting in ridiculous real-world applications that protect against nothing while further expanding the citizen’s right to be harassed.
Silver Lining? The more coverage this stuff gets -> the greater demand for change -> the greater the chance of change.
5. FBI Launches $1 billion Face Recognition Project. It’s supposed to help catch criminals, but given the history of the world and the potential of humanity for both corruption and error, I’m pessimistic that this sort of thing won’t be abused. Clever HN users are quoting relevant passages from 1984 (“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place… an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself–anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide”) and speculating about rising demands for hats, sunglasses, and cyberpunk disguises. I’m concerned that the potential for false positives from face recognition technology will always be unacceptably high.
Silver Lining? Maybe it will catch criminals and won’t be abused, or maybe it will be abused but easy to fool
6. Obama’s Justice Department thinks any cellphone location data should be accessible without warrants. The Feds stuck a GPS tracker on a car without a warrant to catch a drug dealer, but since that was ruled unconstitutional, now they’re trying to argue that they caught him with cellphone location data and they didn’t need a warrant for that, either. Or something. Whether it’s seizing websites, authorizing drone strikes, or accessing cell phone records, the executive branch seems to think it should be able to do whatever it wants with no checks and balances from the judicial branch, and apparently we have to trust that it’s all for our good and never mistaken or abused.
Silver Lining? The courts may rule against this argument just as they did with vehicle tracking. There have been rulings both for and against various types of warrantless government tracking by various levels of courts in recent months, though I’m generally pessimistic about the direction things appear to be going.
7. Democrats Erase Civil Liberties From Their Platform. The 2008 Democrats were very concerned about potential abuses from all the new tactics in Bush’s War on Terror: “We reject illegal wiretapping of American citizens, wherever they live. We reject the use of national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. We reject the tracking of citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war…” However, after Obama became President and continued all of those policies, taking some of them even farther than Bush did while meeting with less criticism from the left, the party has removed all of those statements from their platform and publicly confirmed what libertarians have been saying all along – neither major party really cares about protecting individual freedoms when they’re in power, even as most Americans continue to support them both.
Silver Lining? None. Given the continued expansion of government surveillance in all the reasons above and the decreasing political will to limit it, today’s honest citizen seriously needs to begin considering the Oops Cost in his everyday life. To be safe, you increasingly must not only be non-threatening, but think about how to appear non-threatening to hedge yourself against mistakes.
8. Robotic Cheetahs Will Capture Us All. (h/t @samtunnell) OK, this one’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but I confess that the video of a sprinting four-legged robot sparks an emotional reaction in me that resembles terror, despite how irrational that may be. Come on, the Pentagon would never use these to chase down law-abiding citizens. Besides, cars can outrun this version. But who needs robotic cheetahs? We’re already figuring out how to attach circuits to real cockroaches to trick them to go where we want, and I suppose the scaling to more advanced creatures can’t be too far behind.
Silver Lining? The robot cheetahs are for “emergency response” and “humanitarian assistance.” The cyborg cockroaches are for cheap and easy rescue reconnaissance in disaster response. I don’t truly expect these things to be used for evil any more than everything else we’ve ever invented, and I think the technology is fascinating, despite the possibly irrational creepy factor. Still, it does make one think… as humans design robotic versions of animals and learn to manipulate the real ones, at what point do we become gods, and how does the real God feel about that?
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