Here is a bit of shocking news (or not so shocking depending on your jadedness): the mic on your cell phone can be activated as a transmitter to allow eavesdropping on your conversations even when the phone is powered down and you are merely in the vicinity of the phone. From the link above:
The technique is called a “roving bug,” and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.
As I understand it, wiretaps and bugs are legal when issued through a court, but the mechanism to effect a tap requires a personal visit to the compromised device or location. The roving bug is presumably activated remotely and mobile, which represents a technological development that makes eavesdropping push-button simple, and with it, invites abuses and rationalizations along the lines of “it’s only for a moment,” or “it’s merely temporary,” or “it’s for the greater good” by eliminating the plodding steps necessary to activate one.
I believe that this tool is so seductive (meaning so simple to use) that those in government with the technology (or others? criminals?) couldn’t withstand temptation to deploy it whenever they see fit, meaning illegally. The means/ends distinction inevitably slides too far over to the “end” side of the continuum.
Along similar lines — using technology against people in a bid for government control of populations — I learned that the U.S. military has weaponized microwaves and created a heat ray gun that burns flesh. The device is described as harmless and nonlethal, since the ray penetrates less than 0.5 mm of skin, but the lon-term effects are nonetheless unknown.
I don’t know for sure, but I sense that at some point we’ve passed the point where we have enough weapons and technology to deploy an effective military or police force. What we really lack is an enlightened and judicious humanity (characterized by diplomacy, restraint, and unwillingness to act preemptively) to act as a brake on our apparent technophilia.
While it looked like a good or necessary step at the time (and perhaps even in hindsight), the creation of the atomic bomb ushered in a new era of nastiness and angst from which we have yet to recover. Although the two technologies mentioned above aren’t nearly so sweeping as the bomb, they are certainly part of the same complex of idea that drive weapons technology. Maybe someout out there is actually saying once in a while “let’s not pursue this one, it’s too awful,” but I don’t get the feeling that’s true.