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In the past year we have learned that the NSA collects information about our phone calls without using a warrant. We have also discovered that the FBI may be asking phone companies to track our calls, that camera-carrying drones are becoming more popular with businesses–and with teenagers who may use them to peer through each other’s windows. We have watched as Google Glass has become a reality. This means that at any given time, even when we are in apparent privacy, we may have reason to wonder: “Who’s watching me?”
Because of this increase in potential invasions of privacy, it is only natural that people have begun to consider products to protect themselves. For example, this summer, two inventors raised over $56,447 on Kickstarter for their new design , the “OFF Pocket,” which claims to block all incoming phone signals, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Internet connections from your phone by placing it into a purse made of a specialized metallic fabric. It effectively makes the user’s wireless signals undetectable to both advertisers and the government. The product sells for $85, and the first edition has already sold out.
The problem with these sorts of devices is demonstrated by the marketing strategies of HyperStealth Biotechnology, a Canadian company that claimed last year to have created an “invisibility cloak” using light-bending optical camouflage that makes soldiers in the field vanish. While a product like this would be exceptionally valuable on the private market, only top military officers have been permitted to see the cloak in action, as the company’s owner does not want terrorists to figure out how the cloak works. While it has created products that could hide civilians from civil or military authorities, it will not market them out of a concern for potentially aiding terrorist organizations. It has, however, created a modified version for civilians, which looks identical but will show up on infrared detectors. Thus, the version for civilians does not render the user completely undetectable.
So far, HyperStealth’s competitors have followed this same practice, refusing to sell the best versions of their products to civilians. However, there is currently no law in place that forces companies to take this path.
In the future, as more people begin to ask for this kind of technology, should they be able to buy it? At what point do we draw the line between a citizen’s right to protect themselves from government surveillance and the fear that terrorists may use these technologies to their advantage? Should safety or our privacy be our concern in regulating these new technologies?
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