Satellites Are Watching You

In an article titled “Soon, satellites will be able to watch you everywhere all the time – Can privacy survive?” MIT Technology Review questions how we deal with privacy and satellite surveillance. Satellites are becoming more pervasive, and have higher resolutions – capable of identifying people. Compounding the issue is that countries and entities outside of our borders are not subject to whatever standards our country might adopt.

Privacy as we know it focusses on consent. For things privacy laws deem personal, others can’t collect, use, or disclose it without our consent. That works fine for things we have some control and choice over – such as banking and health information. But that notion becomes unworkable when we don’t know information is being collected, used, or shared at all, let alone by who, and there is no practical way to avoid it or opt out.

As sensors get cheaper, more common, more accurate, and better able to communicate, and software gets more sophisticated – consent as a privacy control seems to fade in effectiveness. So how do we set ethical limits and norms on the collection, use, and disclosure of information about us in a surveillance society?

Here are some other situations to ponder:

  • UK police arrested someone who hid his face to deny consent when near a police camera and charged him with disorderly conduct. The police said the fact that he didn’t want to be filmed was grounds for suspicion.
  • Criminal convictions in the US have been obtained by DNA evidence using genetic genealogy – using profiles of distant relatives contained in DNA databases.
  • Facial recognition is being banned in many places – but it seems to be based more on accuracy than privacy. What happens when accuracy improves?
  • Technology is being developed to sense the emotions of car drivers.

Debates about using new technologies for good vs evil is nothing new – but has it ever been so personal?

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