Recently, I was talking with some friends about the increasing power of technology, and how it is being applied to ever more accurately enforce laws. In just one example, facial recognition is now used in China to [cached]automatically identify and fine jaywalkers.
One common concern is that these technologies are easily abused for more sinister purposes - mass surveillance, identification of political dissidents, etc.
However, I think there's an even more direct danger: Too rigid enforcement of laws stops society from improving. [cached]Until 1967, homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment in the UK. If it had been possible to always strictly enforce this law on everyone (by spotting people based on their browsing history or social graph, ubiquitous cameras, etc), I doubt we would have seen the social change that has taken place, or at the very least it would have been much slower.
The same applies to the prohibition of alcohol in the US, or the current legalization of Marijuana - if all supporters of a cause were imprisoned (since it is illegal), why would society change its mind and make it legal?
Historically, it has never been possible to strictly enforce all laws. As we increasingly have this power, we need to restrain ourselves and accept a certain amount of chaos and lawbreaking in our society, for the sake of future progress.
Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.