Ethics of Theft Deterrence: SkunkLock Bicycle Lock

business_ethics_highlights_2It’s hard to sympathize with bicycle thieves, but should physical harm be among the deterrents to bicycle theft? The SkunkLock is a bicycle lock that emits a vomit-inducing gas when about a third of its girth is cut through. The experience isn’t life-threatening, but is highly unpleasant—similar to being pepper-sprayed.

Two quick questions about the ethics of this form of theft-deterrence:

(1) How important is the analogy of SkunkLock’s noxious gas to pepper spray in evaluating SkunkLock ethically? That is, if we accept pepper spray as a deterrent to battery or robbery, then by parity of reasoning should we also accept SkunkLock as a theft deterrent? (Bonus: Might we distinguish the cases on grounds of the physical presence of the victim in the case of battery or robbery, and the physical absence of the victim in the case of bicycle theft? This distinction informs greater criminal penalties for robbery than for burglary in most common law jurisdictions. Does it also make a difference here?)

(2) How significant to ethical evaluation is the fact that the SkunkLock is labeled prominently? Would the evaluation change if there were a ‘stealth’ model of SkunkLock with no identifying marks?

LINK: Bike lock developed that makes thieves immediately vomit (by Alan Yuhas for The Guardian)

A man approaches a bicycle, handheld electric saw at the ready. He powers it on, starts to drill, and is shot in the face with a noxious spray that makes him vomit uncontrollably. This is the dream of the inventors of SkunkLock.

“Basically we were fed up with thefts,” said Daniel Idzkowski from San Francisco, one of the inventors of SkunkLock. “The real last straw was we had a friend park his very expensive electric bike outside a Whole Foods, and then went to have lunch and chat. We went out and his bike was gone.”

With the right tools, Idzkowski said, a thief could cut through most locks in less than a minute. Thieves, he said, “talk in seconds: a 15-second bike, a 20-second bike, and it goes up to 30-60-second bikes, with Kryptonite locks that require two cuts, each about 25 seconds”.

With his co-inventor, Yves Perrenoud, Idzkowski created a U-shaped lock of carbon and steel with a hollow chamber to hold one of three pressurized gases of their own concoction, including one called “formula D_1”. When someone cuts about 30% of the way into the lock, Idzkowski said, the gas erupts in the direction of the gash.

“It’s pretty much immediately vomit inducing, causes difficulty breathing,” Idzkowski said. “A lot of similar symptoms to pepper spray.”

What do you think?

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