Another Question concerning Technology: The Ethical Implications of Homeland Defence and Security Technologies

By Kaag, John | Homeland Security Affairs, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Another Question concerning Technology: The Ethical Implications of Homeland Defence and Security Technologies


Kaag, John, Homeland Security Affairs


Introduction

This essay begins to provide a unified moral reckoning with the way in which ideas concerning technological progress have altered the rules of military engagement and the implementation of homeland security. It will address both military technologies and technologies that secure the homeland, since the development and use of these technologies are vulnerable to the same ethical pitfalls. First, this essay employs Just War theory as a theoretical frame in which to situate the discussion and argues that the technology associated with precision guided munitions (PGM) only open the possibility of ethical discrimination and proportionality, but in no way insure that these possibilities will be actualized. Second, it begins to expose the relationship between the increasing popularity of PGM technology and the rhetoric that is used to describe contemporary military conflict. If precision weaponry is assumed to be inherently ethical, it may grant policymakers and strategists the chance to conflate the description of tactics with the prescription of normative judgements. Several case studies are employed to demonstrate this point. The second half of the paper asks if the technological progress that has come to define homeland security may lead to similar ethical difficulties in the fields of intelligence and law enforcement. It explores the way in which military technology and rhetoric might be redeployed in the domestic sphere.

The questions concerning PGM and homeland security technologies and their moral implications are also "questions concerning technology" ? an interrogation of the moral and epistemic assumptions that seem to accompany and validate technical capabilities. It is a question that strikes at the heart of homeland security. When Martin Heidegger delivered "The Question Concerning Technology" to a Bavarian audience in 1955, he spoke at a pivotal historical moment in which technological advancements were beginning to be confused with political imperatives and the moral justifications of war. Today, we face a similar moment. The arms race of the Cold War may be over, but the danger that a blind faith in technological know-how poses to moral and rational sensibilities has never been as clear and present. In the end, this essay will suggest that technology itself neither answers nor ignores ethical questions; it is only the particular use of these technologies by practitioners that will either distract us from, or make us well attuned to, particular ethical questions concerning the rights and safety of the U.S. citizenry.

A Just War on Terror?

The robust literature surrounding the issue of "just war" provides a helpful point of departure for a discussion of military technologies and their moral implications in homeland defence. This discussion will be employed later to frame the discussion of homeland security. A brief review of Just War Theory may help to orient readers. Just War theory is usually addressed by way of two related constructs: jus ad bellum (justice in going to war) and jus in bello (justice at/in war).

Having a just cause is the first step in deciding to wage a just war. Any act of aggression is regarded as an unjust act and warrants a military response. In this context, a just cause is one that may be regarded as an act of immediate self-defence. Due to the narrowness of this definition, it is often broadened to take into account pre-emptive actions that are aimed to avoid future aggressive actions by another party. This expansion of self-defence to include pre-emptive military action will prove to be a slippery topic in our later discussion of "national security" and will be important in the designation of potential threats by homeland security officials. The second mandate of jus ad bellum states that a just war ought to be waged only when there is a reasonable chance of achieving the objectives of the mission. These issues are negotiated in the coming section, which asks if there is a relationship between technical capabilities that might ostensibly achieve objectives (capabilities that have been dramatically improved in the past decade) and the ability to designate potential threats to national security (an ability of judgement that remains difficult to hone). …

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