My work on privacy in the 1990s greatly benefited from my teaching. My classes were like laboratories where we tested out scenarios and concepts. I (and my students) also engaged with science fiction. I still talk about the extraordinarily powerful, low-tech surveillance techniques described by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale. That was brought to me by a student.
I also used to teach international communication policy those days. I had to discuss the Westphalian State and the associated concept of national sovereignty as a result. I used to say that there two good justification left for the nation state in its present form. One was (current Governor of California, then unsuccessful Presidential candidate) Jerry Brown’s argument that international law and treaties were inherently undemocratic because it was not possible, democratically, to make laws that affect millions of people in multiple countries. The other was that wars tended to be fought without discriminating about individuals. So those who lived in proximity to each other in a demarcated nation state had an interest in a state that avoided war.
But I used to jokingly refer to some plots advanced by Bruce Sterling that included “surgical” strikes by corporations against other corporations, without getting the governments involved. I also used to spin out scenarios whereby specific individuals would be targeted for death by weapons tailored to their DNA profile. With the movement we now see on drones and DNA profiling, both scenarios are not very far fetched. Now here is another:
Drone bullets will also play a starring role as the season progresses. Mr. Wyman outlined how today’s consumer data-mining practices might lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s search-and-destroy weaponry.
“There are credit cards in your wallet right now that can be read when you walk into certain stores,” he said. “Next, your jeans will have a sensor, your cellphone will have a sensor, your car will have sensors. People will be able to access your history of shopping, where you’ve been and where you’ve gone that day.
“Now imagine a world in the future that has a hundred times the sensors. I could put a program into a bullet that essentially hijacks those sensors to find out where you are. Then I can fire a bullet into the air, and it’s going to come find you. And now I can kill you.”