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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Piloting a Drone Can Be an Act of Civil Disobedience

Straight from the piece in WaPo:

On his web page, Hughes mentions Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience.” Thoreau wished to “trace the effects of [his] allegiance” to the state. Such inquiry may become impossible if limitations baked-in to computer hardware and software increasingly limit the possible avenues for civil disobedience. We ought to be able to choose to comply with the law, rather than have such compliance be forced upon us by technological architecture.

Arguing that non-violent rule-breaking ought to be possible is not arguing that rules ought not to exist. In this particular case, it makes sense to legally protect the airspace around the seat of our government from willy-nilly flights, whether of drones or manned aircraft. But we must not obscure Hughes’s deliberate, calculated sacrifice by writing him off as a loony and nothing more, and we must continue to make choices like his possible.

Abrogating the possibility of such choices removes an avenue of dissent from our democracy. Let us not further eliminate one of the few ways in which those without much money can nevertheless make their voices heard on the national stage, at great personal cost. There is a place for police robots like the one which tentatively circled around Hughes’s airplane. They can make us safer, and they can make us more efficient.

But if we allow our technologies to limit our speech as if we ourselves were robots, then we step back from Thoreau’s ideal of progress, “imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor.” Fortifying the Capitol or the White House to make intrusions like today’s impossible isn’t only anti-democratic. It’s un-neighborly, too.

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