Working on drones, and increasingly in the conversation around Google Glass, I keep hearing a common refrain from people who don’t understand other people’s concerns. “There are surveillance cameras on every corner in major cities, helicopters with cameras overhead, and constant tracking in a million other ways,” the argument goes, “and where is the outrage about those things?”
I find this very strange. For one thing, it seems to imply that society’s got one shot to weigh in on a new branch of technology when its root is being formed. Like there’s a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace moment where if the outrage isn’t sufficiently intense then we have to take our lumps and accept new developments forever. Of course, though, that’s crazy.
But for another thing, I can tell you where the outrage was. A lot of the concerns around drones and Glass that are being picked up and amplified now are the exact same concerns that people were voicing around ubiquitous CCTV cameras and warrantless wiretapping and the TSA and what-have-you.
I don’t think, generally, you should be able to silence an argument because somebody wasn’t making a similar argument earlier. But it seems especially ill-advised to me to try to catch the privacy community in such a loophole. The group of people that are actively outraged about privacy violations may be small, but it is fiercely principled.
So, in response to “Where was the outrage then?” First, it doesn’t matter. Here is the outrage now. But second, it was always there, simmering beneath the surface, and if you haven’t seen it then maybe you’re not the expert on these issues that you thought you were.