Weekly Roundup 1/30/2012

Private Snoops Find GPS Trail Legal to Follow
Erik Eckholm, The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2012

Synopsis: In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Jan. 23 decision limiting police use of GPS devices to surveill suspects (United States v. Jones), new attention is being focused on non-governmental use of the technology. GPS devices can be used by parents to monitor teenaged drivers, family members to keep track of elderly relatives and private investigators to get the goods on adulterous spouses. Many of the common uses are legal, according to veteran Times correspondent Eckholm, but the practice raises ethical concerns.

Takeaway: “To have this as a routine tool strikes me as pretty chilling,” commented Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law and computer science at Harvard University. “It cuts into someone’s autonomy to know where they are all the time and not give them the opportunity to opt out,” he said.

For CQ Researcher coverage of related issues, see Patrick Marshall, “Online Privacy,” Nov. 6, 2009, updated Sept. 14, 2010; Marcia Clemmitt, “Privacy in Peril,” Nov. 17, 2006; Patrick Marshall, “Privacy Under Attack,” June 15, 2001.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


New Drone Has No Pilot Anywhere, So Who's Responsible?
W. J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 26, 2012

Synopsis: Most military drones are flown by pilots on the ground, but some new ones are guided entirely by onboard computers. Ethicists say that a clear chain of human responsibility must be established for the potentially deadly actions of such unpiloted drones.

Takeaway:"'Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability, said Noel Sharkey, a...robotics expert. 'So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military's acquisition process?' Sharkey and others believe that autonomous armed robots should force the kind of dialogue that followed the introduction of mustard gas in World War I and the development of atomic weapons in World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross... is already examining the issue."

For more, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Drone Warfare,” Aug. 6, 2010

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Will Israel Attack Iran?

By Ronen Bergman, The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 29, 2012

Synopsis: In fascinating detail, the military analyst for Israel’s largest newspaper examines the likelihood that Israel will attack Iran in an attempt to cripple its nuclear capability. He reports that defense minister Ehud Barak lays out three questions, all of which require affirmative responses before a decision is made to attack:

1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project?

2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?

3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?

Takeaway: “For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s,” Bergman writes, “at least some of Israel’s most powerful leaders believe that the response to all of these questions is yes. “ What does Bergman himself think? “After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”

For background, see Jennifer Weeks, “Nuclear Disarmament,” Oct. 2, 2009 (updated Dec. 10, 2010) and Peter Katel, “U.S. Policy on Iran,” Nov. 16, 2007

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor