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In Your Backyard Pool

“We’ve never gone into surveillance for sake of surveillance unless there is criminal activity afoot,” McDaniel told The Daily. “Just to see what you’re doing in your backyard pool - we don’t care.”

From an article on the increasing use of drones in the US, which paid special attention to the problem of putting weapons on them. They’d not be using guns (at first), but they’d be fitted out with tear gas and rubber bullets, for use above the border.

Several things come out of this officer’s statement. I’m particularly drawn to the scenario the officer creates to assuage our doubts about the drones. “Just to see what you’re doing in your backyard pool”: they don’t care about your illicit (sexual?) activities, or the fact that you might be using the narcotics a relatively rich person (someone who has his own backyard pool) might be consuming. In the privacy of your own realm, you are free to do what you want. “You” here is not exactly inclusive; it has a target audience.
The dark inversion of that target is that “you” are not free to do what you want outside of your private fifedom (which also means that those of us who do not have a backyard alotment, a place where we can relax afloat an inflatable raft, perhaps naked, perhaps stoned, but nonetheless definitely not engaged in “criminal activity”). So. Stay in your backyard, do nothing, don’t worry about anything. Bob.

The first half of the officer’s statement is also aimed to calm, but it’s not really much of a soother. There is always “criminal activity afoot.” Everywhere. The question is how to quantify—really, create by naming—and contain it. The use of drones (which, legally, likely will be constrained to public space) will contain and control specific sorts of crime. Because it’s not untrue to say that the police gather intelligence, surveille, with a specific sort of “criminal activity” in mind. The get their quotas and have to meet them to keep their job. So the deployment of drones over public will come with its own set of quotas. (And one wonders how those quotas are generated!)

The ACLU opposition in the article lives in a fantasy land, a moral universe. They repeat that drones “should not” be armed. Well, unfortunately, drones will be armed; it’s possible that they wouldn’t be, existentially, of course, but given the way that the use of technology has unfolded, I’m betting that drones will be carrying an arsenal within a decade. Rubber bullets, tear gas, and, finally, assault rifles and even grenade launchers will be on drones surveilling cities throughout the States. They’ll be piloted, initially, by people in remote locations—probably the sort of person who grew up blowing shit up on video games, so the dissonance of the activity won’t be that great. Eventually, the pilots themselves will be replaced by a software program that measures “threats” against a set of metrics, which may or may not have purchase on reality.

The question is not whether this should happen. It’s how it will, and what could mitigate the damage it will do.

Categories: Notes.

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