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April 19, 2015

IS THAT REALLY A SPIDER, OR ARE YOU BEING MONITORED?:   Today’s Wall Street Journal oped by a Harvard Law prof and a Brookings Institution fellow assert that we need a “new social contract” to handle the coming privacy and security threats:

You walk into your shower and see a spider. You don’t know whether it is venomous—or whether it is even a real spider. It could be a personal surveillance mini-drone set loose by your nosy next-door neighbor, who may be monitoring the tiny octopod robot from her iPhone 12. A more menacing possibility: Your business competitor has sent a robotic attack spider, bought from a bankrupt military contractor, to take you out. Your assassin, who is vacationing in Provence, will direct the spider to shoot an infinitesimal needle containing a lethal dose of poison into your left leg—and then self-destruct.

Meanwhile, across town, an anarchist molecular-biology graduate student is secretly working to re-create the smallpox virus, using ordinary laboratory tools and gene-splicing equipment available online. Not content to merely revive an extinct virus to which the general population has no immunity, he uses public-source academic research to make it more lethal. Then he infects himself and, just as his symptoms start, strolls around the airport to infect as many people as he can.

They’re undoubtedly right about the nature and extent of these threats, but their proffered solution is itself quite frightening:

All this challenges our security—and the way we think about the state itself. The liberal state was predicated on a social contract: We give up a certain amount of liberty to a government, which promises in turn to protect us. But that promise is becoming increasingly difficult to keep as more Big Brothers—and lots of Little Brothers too—come to command awesome technological powers.

For the state as we know it to endure, we’ll have to adapt some of the most basic organizing principles of governance, both domestic and international. . . . Still, today’s international legal order remains very much boundary-centered. It gives countries the power to legislate and enforce laws within their territories but allows relatively little latitude to regulate the conduct of foreign subjects abroad—and even less latitude to actually enforce their laws beyond their borders.

Threats that routinely span borders will force states to routinely reach across their borders through legislation that governs foreign conduct, surveillance of citizens in foreign countries, and even targeted killings. A growing number of states are already claiming that more of their laws should apply beyond their territories—for instance, by unilaterally defining cyberattacks or cybercrimes and by enforcing their domestic laws against foreign offenders acting overseas. To avoid turning the world into the Wild West, we must ensure that this increased unilateralism is checked by greater international cooperation: better governance for fragile states, more information-sharing among states and more effective means of enforcing laws where jurisdictions are unclear.

In other words, the liberal/progressive solution to this growing privacy/security threat is more government, more and greater transfer of power away to international bodies such as the U.N.  They seem to have something in mind like a beefed up International Criminal Court, in which the U.S. has thus far wisely declined participation. One World Government, anyone?

No thanks.  The last thing the U.S. needs to do is relinquish sovereignty over privacy and security matters.

How about this alternative solution:  Beef up our military and national security surveillance, improve (voluntary) information sharing with our Allies, encourage the development of enhanced privacy and security devices for individual use, and enact tougher privacy laws to make sure that your nosy neighbor with that spider drone gets some time in the pokey.