[Drone surveillance] is scary, but what’s the difference whether the drone is up in the air or on the building? I mean intellectually I have trouble making a distinction. And you know you’re gonna have face recognition software. People are working on that. It’s just we’re going into a different world, uncharted, and, like it or not, what people can do, what governments can do, is different. And you can to some extent control, but you can’t keep the tides from coming in. We’re going to have more visibility and less privacy. I don’t see how you stop that. And it’s not a question of whether I think it’s good or bad. I just don’t see how you could stop that because we’re going to have them.
Considering at least 26 states have introduced legislature restricting the use of drones in their airspace, Bloomberg has placed himself somewhat outside the scope of the mainstream discourse on domestic drone use with views that are quite anathema to that particular debate. But is Bloomberg really that far off the mark here? What exactly is the difference between a drone with video recording capabilities and the thousands of cameras littered throughout different parts of NYC?
Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union commented on Bloomberg’s remarks in a CBS report, saying
“It’s disappointing that the mayor shows such disdain for the legitimate concern of New Yorkers about their privacy. None of us expects that we’ll go unseen when we’re out on the street, but we also have the right to expect that the government isn’t making a permanent record.”
As I wrote about in this post here, there’s been something of a disconnect in the way the American populace has approached the issue of domestic drone surveillance as compared with their attitudes towards less visible forms of surveillance. Lieberman’s criticisms are a clear indication of this, as just days before Bloomberg made his case, CIA CTO Ira ‘Gus’ Hunt stated at a conference – here in NYC, of all places – that the CIA “fundamentally tries to collect everything and hang on to it forever.” Similarly, the NSA has built it’s new massive storage facility in Bluffdale, Utah precisely to keep permanent records of all the available information out there.
The institutions that are responsible for the truly egregious violations of privacy through indiscriminate data-mining are hardly ever commented on in the mainstream discourse. Fittingly, the NSA whistle-blower William Binney hasn’t got a single mention in either the Times or the WaPo that isn’t tucked away under some other heading or the opinion section. And even then, he shows up exactly once in both publications – in the Times for a review of a documentary about his experiences as a whistle-blower, and in the Post for a long piece detailing the drama of his colleague and fellow whistle-blower Thomas Drake. A search for the terms “william binney NSA” in ProQuest’s National Newspapers Premier database, yields exactly two results – the WaPo piece referenced above and a piece by Jamshid Ghazi Askar for the Deseret News, neither of which explores any of Binney’s struggle as an NSA whistle-blower.
Having adduced such damning evidence of the mainstream media’s highly selective attention favoring the state and its policies, one can only wonder aloud about the validity of this country’s political discourse which is so heavily shaped by the information the general public is privy to. To Bloomberg’s credit, he remarked (rather accurately, in this author’s opinion) that domestic drone surveillance is “something that society needs to think about, and not by writing a quick piece of legislation. These are long-term serious problems,” and it will take something of a self-critical cultural upheaval to address the root causes of these issues.