Last Friday was the final day for first reading of bills in their house of origin in the 2014 Wyoming Budget Session. Due to the priority of budget amendments, even extended hours could not provide the time needed to consider first reading of every bill that survived introduction and came out of committee. This spelled death for dozens of bills. In some cases this was a welcome development: I incorrectly predicted that an attempt to restrict the use of a “wearable computer with head mounted display” (i.e., Google Glass) while driving would not survive introduction, but Senate File 35 made it all the way to General File before its demise thanks to the first reading cutoff.
However, plenty of good bills went unheard as well, and it was particularly unfortunate that House Bill 105, which would have established parameters for the use of drones by Wyoming law enforcement, went unconsidered. A new movie in theaters, Jose Padilha’s Robocop—a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film of the same name—drives home the urgency of reining in law enforcement’s use of new technology.
I’m normally weary of remakes, for good reason, but Padilha’s is important. Verhoeven was prescient in 1987 about the growing threat of surveillance, automation and overkill, and Padilha is conscious that the future is near, if not now.
In the new Robocop, a company that has deployed armed robots throughout the world for “peacekeeping” (exemplified with a chilling opening scene in Tehran) seeks to deploy these robots in America, but cannot do so because it is prohibited. To get around the law, they construct a new product that combines robotic machinery with a Detroit police detective named Alex Murphy, the victim of a car bombing.
Without getting too deep into an analysis of the film, the company works diligently to ensure there is as little difference as possible between Murphy and its other machines. The story centers on Murphy overcoming this obstacle, but also features open conflict between corporatists, a pundit (portrayed with perfect vigor by Samuel L. Jackson), politicians and their audience—the American people—on the proper application of this technology. Frankly, for a modern American PG13 action/sci-fi it’s nothing short of a miracle the movie is as good and probative as it is.
Although there are plenty of ways to distinguish either version of Robocop from the present day, and some of these are important (e.g., drones that kill are piloted remotely by human beings and do not compete with robots), the similarities are too close for comfort. Abroad, President Obama (who won with large support from Americans adamantly opposed to the war in Iraq and the tactics of President Bush) has solved the problem of detaining suspected terrorists by executing them with drone strikes instead of capturing them. The civilian deaths that result from many of these strikes are terrifying, yet few Americans care. Meanwhile, the technology continues to develop, and in the private sector Amazon is looking into using small drones to deliver products. This, of course, has our attention.
WyLiberty broke the story of drone use in Wyoming last year, and we’ve continued to be a resource as it develops. I testified in favor of House Bill 105 at the House Judiciary Committee, noting that of all the uses of drones (some of them legitimate, such as checking power lines and hard-to-access utilities), it is important to restrict their use by law enforcement even before it begins. There will be many questions as time goes on, but for now it is prudent to require law enforcement to get a warrant before using drones to search areas for criminal activity, and prevent cheap ever-present “eyes in the sky” from watching over Wyoming.
I expect House Bill 105 will return next year. I hope it passes with strong support. Robocop is not in our house yet, but he’s on our doorstep, and we should have a plan before he knocks.