Um….I dunno how I feel about this

Some drug farmers in Switzerland got themselves epic pwned by Google Earth satellite view. Justice? Gross violation of human freedoms? Light to moderate violation (if there is such a thing…)? I don’t know how I feel about this, but I know I don’t like it.

Ok first off: I get this is another country, so I’m aware that the laws are different, but Google Earth and its abilities apply to all of us regardless of where this particular story took place.

On the one hand, these people were doing something illegal. On the other hand, typically, people have a right to privacy unless they voluntarily give permission or there is some legal decision made to force “permission”. The question seems to be: Would they have been found out, if this arguably invasive technology hadn’t been used? However one could argue that this is simply another tool that would have always been used, provided we’d always had it — it just “seems” invasive because it’s new. For example, DNA testing is still controversial because collecting the samples can be done through subterfuge or other seedy means and people consider their DNA to be their property. Or at least part of their right to privacy. However, DNA evidence is often used to convict and clear suspects who are accused of committing crimes, with good results.

Should we get over this sense of “privacy” we all have for the greater good? Because, after all, if we aren’t doing anything wrong, what do we have to hide? Or is privacy an important protection from the prejudices and otherwise nosiness of other people? I don’t know that I’m entirely comfortable with this use of Google Earth by the authorities, but with changing times and technology I feel like “privacy” may become an antiquated notion – the way we conceive of it now, anyway. Should we change what privacy means? To what end?

For example, if Google street view hadn’t been used to catch drug dealers and had instead been used to, say, spy on a local business to survey the security or whatnot in order to break in, would that be ok? That may be a ridiculous example, but my point is that accessing people’s private/secure information for the purpose of doing something illegal certainly can’t be justified. Although, with Google Earth such a thing might be possible.

Personally I don’t think it’s right to invoke an “ends justifies means” attitude about this. Just because it was criminals who were caught in this case doesn’t mean that other people can’t use the same program for illegal purposes. However, it’s not best to argue based on what people might do unless there’s good evidence that there’s a high probability of the behaviour. I simply don’t have enough data to make a more concrete statement.

So, I don’t know the answer to this, but I know one thing – this gives me the willies. I just don’t know if they’re sensible willies, or if they are based on an out-dated attitude that I should re-evaluate and change.

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6 responses to “Um….I dunno how I feel about this

  1. I think your ideas of expectation of privacy are skewed. These “farmers” were not inside a private residence. The fields of pot were outside. Sure, they were on someone’s private property, but the plants were clearly open to view to anyone flying over in a plane, or helicopter…or satellite, as it turns out. I don’t believe, in this situation, the perpetrators had a reasonable expectation of privacy for their acts.

  2. In my post I indicated that I’m not sure what my expectations for privacy are or whether my expectations (whatever they are) are reasonable. But I intended to use this story as an example to the broader topic or using technology to gather information on other people – particularly information that can be used *against* other people.

    Everyone with an internet connection has access to Google Earth. There’s the potential for people who aren’t in legal authority using this information for their own means, provided the “victim” lives in a city with satisfactory resolution (especially street view).

    So, again, I simply don’t know how I feel about this.

  3. By the same token, a private citizen, and small airplane owner, could have flown over the area, and made a report to the police. Sure, the new technology makes that ability available to a wider population, but this is not a revolutionary case, as law goes.

  4. Um, again, it was an example to the broader topic. Do you have any comment about people being potentially able to use your “private” information against you?

  5. To what kind of “private” information do you allude? I am unaware of any.

  6. You’re unaware of any private information?