This is by no means a new concept. I discussed the idea back in 2009. But a recent Reddit thread reminded me of the idea, and a linguistic lament.
See, there's an old pair of terms that have been repurposed. Just as pirates had "booty", so too did the same root via the Dutch give the world vrijbuiters ... "free-booters". This term's more nautical origins dropped away at one point so the term referred to landlubbers, and in the modern age the term is more associated with Facebook and bootleg videos ("boot" there as part of "bootleg" being footwear rather than Dutch booty or anything gluteal, because English is a crackhead language).
But freebooters were also known as filibusters, and I trust that term's modern repurposing needs no explanation to American readers. Politician filibusters ... basically talking endlessly (moreso than usual) ... are pretty popular these days, from awesome tour de force filibusters of Ted Cruz to the short and strange one by a nasty faux trailer park momma from Texas who sought to defend Gosnellian slaughterhouse horrors.
"Filibuster" came from the Spanish "filibustero", itself derived from "vrijbuiter", and given our use of "conquistador" I figure just using the Spanish term is best now, at least until someone else ganks it for something else.
So, back to the matter at hand ...
Given the prediction by the 20th Century Roman from "Bread and Circuses"[TOS] that a hundred phaser-armed men could defeat the combined armies of their world, and given the recent phaser vs. tank conversations that are pretty clearly pro-phaser, and given the fact that even a flippin' runabout could probably pick off most military forces of Earth at its leisure, what's really to stop such things?
As I noted on the Reddit thread:
I have often wondered how the Federation polices such things. One can imagine Ferengi or Federation filibusteros grabbing a few surplus KBoPs and deciding to have a go at a species akin to 20th Century Earth. Filibustero (and smaller-scale planetary privateering) interdiction missions would probably happen not-infrequently over the two centuries of Trek, and would presumably be a norm among most spacefaring races. Consider "Civilization"[ENT] which even featured an advanced species taking steps to hide itself from advanced passersby as it mucked about.Presumably the Federation would have to surround the system with some sort of sensor net to monitor for spacecraft activity, though I don't think we've ever heard of such a thing. It seems as if they might want to put something in orbit or on a nearby moon, but that could be a bad idea if left too long (one can imagine early LEO or lunar probes or manned missions bumping into a small monitoring satellite or similar -- already an old sci-fi story anyway -- and causing no end of consternation for the Prime Directive guys ... speaking of which, I think that was the name of the Reeves-Stevens book that had such ideas in mind).
Of course, outside Federation space, it seems like it'd be open season. Certainly the crappier areas of the Delta Quadrant we observed ought to feature a number of such occurrences, over and above the lost Ferengi doing it. Certainly we saw an area of a world protected from such occurrences by some friendly and unknown ancient alien race in "Natural Law"[VOY7]. Interestingly, the Klingons were both victims and perpetrators of, er, filibusteroism. Conquered, or at least sacked, by the Hur'q in the 1400s, the Klingons were in the 23rd Century known to muck about with pre-warp cultures, though there is no evidence of this occurring on a filibustero basis.
Instead, the most nefarious thing usually done by warp-capable buttheads is to fly by pre-warp planets and snatch a few people for labor or food without making much of a fuss. This is covered adequately in reference to Earth by the Trekspertise Youtube channel . . .
Generally speaking, the secrecy attached to the actions of such space highwaymen is odd. If I need to collect some ants, I might grab some group off an ant trail or I might just as well grab a stick and poke it into the mound and keep the stick. Either way, I don't particularly care if the ants see me. By analogy, this is little different than landing a shuttle at a secluded farm and taking the farmhands versus landing outside any City Hall for a quick snatch. Certainly transporters make that even more plausible.
The "Civilization" example is the height of secrecy, both in regard to other passersby and the civilization they were among. Then again, if the Malurians in that episode had found a source for a weapon-related isotope and wanted to keep it private, it makes sense they might seek to hide their activity from sensors, but would they really need to hide from the locals?
Meanwhile, we haven't seen as much, if any, indication of 'primitives protection' in Star Wars. While Star Trek has its share of pre-warp cultures that have had contact made, and accidents have happened wherein the truth of extraterrestrial civilization is revealed, it seems that in most cases the contact is left as minimal as possible. However, in Star Wars, contact seems to be as the party in power pleases.
The natural example to use here is the Ewoks, a tree-dwelling stone-age gang of teddy bears who get a very visible battlestation built over their heads, a shield generator built right in their woods, and who are thereafter informed by the Rebellion of the full measure of galactic events and asked to participate. (From a Prime Directive standpoint I rather think Federation personnel would have no problem with the Rebel exposition and recruiting, given the damage done already, but it is interesting and worth noting.)
We've also seen other primitive cultures with plenty of contact. Star Wars humans apparently colonized Naboo and mined it for plasma, perhaps ignorant of the Gungan natives initially, and indications were that this happened only within the past several centuries. The icemen of the Pantora moon also come to mind, and in that episode, "Trespass"(TCW1), the lack of anything resembling a Prime Directive is pretty explicit.
There's more, but suffice it say that a 21st Century planet like ours is much better off in the Star Trek galaxy, I would think.