America has a love affair with technology. We “can’t live without it”. So we suppose. “[A] new poll by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government shows that people overwhelmingly think that computers and the Internet have made Americans’ lives better” (Survey Shows Widespread Enthusiasm for High Technology, found at http://www.npr.org/programs/specials/poll/technology/). However, according to this poll, Americans feel there are potential dangers.
But these Americans feel the dangers of technology do not include the lack of government authority or government abuse in using this technology. Just the opposite: they “would like the government to protect them from these dangers” (Ibid). The implication is clear: the people do not feel the government’s use of technology poses any dangers or risks against liberty.
With this kind of perspective, it appears technology and liberty may find themselves at war with each other—sooner rather than later. Ultimately, it will put people at war: those who want more technology to make their lives easier and those who want more liberty to live independently and freely.
The question is, “does technology—and its continual advancement—improve the natural and societal condition of mankind?” Well, perhaps the question cannot be stated so simply to obtain the true answer. Still, the subject is especially relevant because what the commercial world creates today, the government uses tomorrow and in mass. We are facing realities today that previous American generations could not have imagined.
Recall that Thomas Jefferson thought the West would not be developed for 1,000 years. No sooner had he spoken those words, the West was being developed rapidly because of the unforeseeable Industrial age. Of course, my parents’ generation could never have thought that they could transfer mega information from tiny handheld devices through satellite and laser technology. Now here we are today to prove their minds incapable of comprehending how fast technology was to advance. For certain, what future generations will have to deal with only intensifies the debate of technology verses liberty.
We have seen the movies and TV shows where computers scan the facial images or retinas of humans to identify them. This once-science-fiction has been the reality in certain contexts in the United States and other nations. It is so main-stream that commercial entities are using facial scanning technology to identify people for purposes of advertisement. As stated in a recent article found at the Drudge Report, “[o]nce the stuff of science fiction and high-tech crime fighting, facial recognition technology has become one of the newest tools in marketing.” Shan Li and David Sarno, Advertisers Start Using Facial Recognition To Tailor Pitches, August 21, 2011, Los Angeles Times).
While some attempt to minimize the malfeasant use of such technology, the truth is, creators of this kind of technology admit this technology is “widely adaptable” (Ibid). As such, it can be used for any purpose the user would prefer. In conjunction with the thousands of video cameras strategically placed in virtually every city in the United States, technology could be used to record every facial print exposed to the software’s capacity. With just one scan of your face, your unique facial identifiers (like a fingerprint or DNA) can be recorded permanently in the government’s database. It would have the same effect as people having to register their fingerprints, DNA, etc. with the government.
Most (if not all) state constitutions and laws do not authorize the government to collect fingerprint and like information from people. Only upon unique circumstances do their laws allow the government to record and store such personal information. For all others, it matters not that you receive the benefit of living in that State; enter public areas and thus “have no reasonable expectation of privacy”; or receive a license by the State to drive a vehicle. Fundamental notions of liberty prohibit the government from arbitrarily collecting personal information, such as your facial print/DNA
This begs the question, what will stop governments from utilizing this kind of increasingly-intrusive technology? After all, if they can “lawfully” use video-audio technology throughout our cities and towns without so much as a negative letter to the editor, what is to stop governments from using other technology in the name of “security and safety”?
Have we come to the point in the United States that to be a part of society means you have implicitly authorized government to use any new technology available for any alleged legitimate purpose? What about the RFID technology which is certainly in line to be used by the federal and state governments? What about the use of satellites to pinpoint every structural location, including recording video and photography imagery of your private residence? What about the technology being used similarly without our knowledge?
These kinds of issues cut to the very core of what it means to form society and government; to be a free person; and to limit government. It reaches into the very soul of the nature of man and laws of nature. This matter will undoubtedly require the extrapolation and exposition of philosophers to articulate the rationale and reasoning which will (re)form the foundation of a freer society—where one is able to walk in a grocery store, drive down the road, or enter the county courthouse without being raped by technology. Without this kind of philosophical advocacy, it is likely that technology will triumph over liberty as its dominion increases exponentially every day, just as government does.