Have you ever been on a call when, suddenly, Siri or Alexa started talking back to you? If you own a smartphone, tablet, or TV you’ve probably had one of these experiences, and it can be unsettling or merely annoying.
In either case… yes, these artificial intelligent devices are listening to you. But, is your phone the only thing listening to or watching what you do?
Technology is revolutionizing our lives, but it’s also stretching the boundaries of our civil liberties. Concerningly, phones aren’t the only devices keeping an eye on us:
- GPS tracks our every move
- Camera drones will soon be flying around your property to deliver packages while recording everything around them
- Stores and credit cards are tracking our purchases
- Your face is being stored on computers across government platforms thanks to facial recognition software
- Even smart water meters have helped solve crimes by helping determine if a crime scene had been hosed down.
The implementation of technology into our daily life is begging for more questions than there seem to be answers for.
Is Technology a Threat to Democracy?
The word democracy comes from two Greek words: “demos” (the people) and “Kratia” (ower or authority). Democracy can be defined as a government by the people.
By itself, technology is not a threat to democracy. However, specific uses of certain technology can quickly become a threat depending on how that data is collected and ultimately used or abused. This potential misuse of high-tech isn’t just limited to the government.
The US Constitution was created for the purpose of protecting people from the government. However, if democracy is built on the foundation of people, what happens when technology becomes another tool of governmental control?
Facial Recognition Software
One of the biggest dangers to civil liberties isn’t smartphones. It’s facial recognition employed by the government. In 2018, a report was published warning that the US government was becoming a “China-like surveillance state.”
Microsoft’s CEO Brad Smith has also jumped on the warning train. In a speech to the Brookings Institute, Smith said:
“The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle. Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues. By that time, these challenges will be much more difficult to bottle back up.”
Facial recognition technology has frighteningly moved past identifying and tracking people. It can now detect emotions with great precision. This could lead to questions of discrimination or law enforcement actions subjectively determined by an algorithm to determine if someone is guilty or innocent.
Democracy or Digital Monarchy?
Technology has incredible opportunities to be used for good. But, it has just as much potential to be used for bad. If people get to the point that they are no longer governing themselves and the government and businesses are nothing more than a surveillance state, then we no longer have a democracy.
What they have is a digital monarchy.
While technology is currently a threat to our democracy and civil liberties, it doesn’t have to be that way. The real question at hand is: how far is government and big business willing to go to control us and is there any line they won’t cross?
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