Aerostats in Maryland (and surveillance, justice, and moral respect)

The Washington Post is reporting that the army is to deploy two blimp-like surveillance aircraft under the auspices that they will monitor for incoming missiles directed at the capital and other east coast cities. The blimps will be equipped with radar powerful enough to completely monitor the east coast from Staten Island to Richmond, and will be stationed in suburban Maryland, not far from where I grew up. Similar aircraft have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there

Surveillance camera

Surveillance camera

featured state of the art surveillance cameras that can literally watch the actions of a person from miles away, though the army has said that these airships will not have such cameras. Is your jaw touching the floor? A stationary surveillance drone will monitor the comings and goings of trains, planes, boats and cars in order to vigilantly keep a look out for incoming missiles from an invading navy. Who is planning to invade us? How is it that the United States Navy will not detect incoming missiles or invading fleets of battle ships? What is really going on?

It now might be the time to reconsider our former complacency with increasing surveillance by the US government. I, like many other persons who have spoken on the topic, have said, “Well, I don’t have anything to hide, so I’m not going to make a scene about it”. The idea has been that since I am not a terrorist I have nothing to worry about because none of the information the government gathers on me will show me to be a terrorist. But now it seems we are reaching a point where information is gathered on me that reveals my vices and my character flaws that have nothing to do with the law.

For the most part, criminal punishment is only dealt to those who violate the rights of others; more and more, acts that do not harm others are not being criminally prosecuted, and we are witnessing a gorge forming between law on the one side and morality on the other. I, for one, think this is for the best – a Millian harm principle should guide our thoughts on what criminal laws are fair. A person can act immorally without breaking the law, so persons can commit minor immoral transgressions without worrying about criminal punishment.

At least, they used to be able to – now that there will be an omniscient eye in the sky it will be hard to shake the feeling that, though no one was harmed by an action, the state knows that I committed a moral wrong. If someone thinks they are being monitored in their bad actions then they might change their behavior, or find a way to hide their bad actions out of view. That persons will try to hide their immoral but legal actions away from view tells us something. It tells us that citizens are embarrassed by their actions before the watchful eye of the state. If persons are embarrassed by their actions because of the watchful eyes of bureaucrats then it seems that citizens will not feel respected by the state.  Recent work in egalitarian theory has been premised on the theory that showing respect for all citizens is necessary for a polity to be just, such that, if citizens feel required to hide their immoral but legal actions from the eyes of the state, then it is difficult to say that that polity is just. This, I think, suggests the correlation between a strong surveillance presence by the state and the justness of the polity. As the presence of surveillance increases in the state, so does the possibility for injustice.

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  1. #1 by SelfAwarePatterns on January 24, 2014 - 12:31 pm

    My next speeding ticket may be issued by a floating drone. Swell. That is, assuming my car (or my phone for that matter) doesn’t just start uploading my driving habits to the police department.

    • #2 by ausomeawestin on January 24, 2014 - 8:02 pm

      You know, I hadn’t even been suspicious of my GPS until you said that… thanks for the tip!

  1. Is Surveillance by the NSA Just? (deontology, Kant, Ross, and the priority of the right) | ausomeawestin
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