Yesterday, USAToday featured a splashy story about police surveillance tools that can "see" into buildings to determine who is inside and where. It sounds like a very useful thing to me, and we have probably all heard of cases in which such technology was used to locate hostages, or figure out how many bad guys with weapons might be lurking inside before the G-men storm the doors.
But apparently the ACLU and others are again ready to criticize. I think I understand the "pure" position the critics are coming from, yet - as with freedom of speech or the right to bear arms - there is, and cannot be, any pure position in the real world. We need to judge the damage that such technology might do to the civil rights of a very limited number of total innocents against the possibility of injury or death to hostages or to law enforcement officers, or indeed to we citizens in general, if criminals or terrorists can't be apprehended. And especially in the case of hostages, I would think, we shouldn't be waiting for a judge to approve the use of these surveillance tools.
The greater danger to civil liberties is not from the occasional and usually legitimate use of technology by police attempting to perform their duties, but from our laissez-faire attitude about letting potentially invasive or dangerous technology be sold to private citizens. We've done so with guns, we've done so with lasers and drones; and no doubt the surveillance technologies now being questioned are also being offered, without control, to any Tom, Dick, or Harriet who wants to buy one.
Let's let the ACLU put all its expensive legal talent to work on this issue instead.