Presumed Guilty

The Department of Homeland Security announced it was postponing a program to expand the use of spy satellites for domestic surveillance. Good. In the slippery slope toward a society where every citizen will be monitored from the second he steps outside his home, even into a privacy fenced back yard, the wholesale use of spy satellites on US territory is inches above the bottom.

It’s hard to argue with some uses of satellites for law enforcement. For example, airplane overflights using infrared equipment to spot drug fields is a longstanding practice in the US and US spy satellites have long been used to provide the same sort of infrared data about drug crops in other countries. Even if a claim of a “right to privacy in public” weren’t a bit ridiculous sounding, claiming that such a right extended to planting acres of crops and expecting no one to notice is eve more absurd.

On the other hand, technology has created a reality where government can watch us, track us, analyze us, record what it’s collected and reanalyze it at whim. 1984 has come and gone, watch out for the Pre-Crime Department coming to a semipublic place near you soon.

The fatal flaw in this idea of domestic spying is not the use of spy satellites for dealing with natural disasters, border security, counterterrorism or even scanning for large fields of marijuana. The flaw, as with wiretapping, data mining and so many of Homeland Securities projects, is that there is not a clear and stringent regime to assure that it is only used for those purposes. Aside from requiring at least a serious administrative review process, if not outright warrant requirements, such a regime also needs to include serious penalties for those who misuse the system and exclusion of evidence from any but the most narrowly limited cases (terrorism, treason in time of invasion, perhaps large scale drug production).

Not everything we do in public, even though legal, is the government’s business and not everything we do is necessarily something we want recorded, catalogued and archived. To be clear, this isn’t the usual technical Constitutional argument about the rights of criminals or even rights of “the accused”, this is about the government’s treatment of citizens when there is not even the suggestion of criminality. This system makes going outdoors a presumption of guilt.

[tags]spy satellite,domestic spying,Homeland Security[/tags]

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