Matthew Waxman

What if armed drones were not just piloted remotely by humans in far-away bunkers, but they were programmed under certain circumstances to select and fire at some targets entirely on their own? This may sound like science fiction, and deployment of such systems is, indeed, far off. But research programs, policy decisions, and legal debates are taking place now that could radically affect the future development and use of autonomous weapon systems.

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The New York Times reports today that "Privacy Fears Grow as Cities Increase Surveillance." The main theme is that municipal police and law enforcement agencies around the country are deploying new and more sophisticated data gathering and analysis technology, some of it bought with counter-terrorism funds, stoking privacy concerns among residents and watchdog groups.

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With all the attention these days on NSA activities, it’s easy to forget that much surveillance in the United States takes place at the state and local level, and it is also regulated by state and local law. Much of the really high tech stuff is centralized in the federal government’s hands, but debate about at least one new technology—facial recognition—is going on in some places at the state level, and that’s a good thing.

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President Obama has just declared his decision to launch military strikes against Syria, after seeking approval for Congress, in order to hold the Syrian government accountable for its recent chemical weapon atrocities.

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