Privacy has been an issue in politics for a while now. It’s one of those problems that can’t be easily resolved, since both sides of the spectrum have solid arguments.
Perhaps the most commonly referenced example of surveillance gone wrong is described in George Orwell’s 1984, where Big Brother watches from the TV and the Thought Police decide what you can and can’t think. It’s as chilling as it is vivid, and as each new development in surveillance technology is made, the book is endlessly referenced.
However, the ethics of surveillance are often dependent on the reasons it is being used. Almost everyone on both sides of the spectrum would agree that security cameras installed in a bank or grocery store are meant to protect us and that they are therefore ethically sound. The surveillance described in 1984 is meant to control people; it is the government deciding what its citizens shall do and say. It’s more than encroachment–it takes away freedom. In this case, the surveillance is judged to be undoubtedly unethical.
The cases that spur controversy make up the gray area between this black and white. Google Maps “street view” supplies us with information and helps us find our way around unfamiliar areas. But some don’t appreciate the front of their house being on the Internet for everyone to view. I would argue that Google Maps is as much an invasion of privacy as a pedestrian crossing the sidewalk in front of your house. The information has always been out there for those feeling compelled to get it, Google has just made it more easily accessible.
I can’t accurately predict the future of surveillance technology. But the current trend suggests that it will continue to develop. As long as the citizenry has a voice in determining what is ethical and unethical to observe, I don’t believe we’ll be stuck in an Orwellian dystopia anytime soon.