One nation under drones?
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 16:02
Big Brother is getting even bigger. In fact, he may have up to 30,000 watchful eyes in the skies over the United States in the not-too-distant future.
The Federal Aviation Administration can now regulate unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for military, commercial and private use inside America's airspace thanks to a bill passed by Congress last week and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Tuesday. It was a show of unwelcomed bipartisan support that caved to special interest groups such as the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
When did we the people ever get to debate this drastic idea of domestically deploying thousands of drones, including some that are currently used to spy on and attack militants in our handful of overseas engagements? Before, drones were primarily used in small blocks of military airspace and during border patrols.
This radical change in policy presents several problems, the forefront of which is concern over privacy and the dystopian vision of robotic drones circling overhead like buzzards – quickly fading the idea of the American eagle and its freedom.
In a December report, the American Civil Liberties Union warned that "routine aerial surveillance in American life would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States." Remember this Congress is nearly the same group of people that brought us the Patriot Act and, at first, denied its use for domestic spying.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed suit against the FAA to gain information on the drones' use in the U.S. The EFF notes that drones, depending on the type, are capable of eavesdropping on electronic transmissions like Wi-Fi and cellular networks, and can "monitor up to 65 enemies of the State simultaneously." According to Popular Science, one Texas sheriff's office is already gearing up a drone that can carry weapons like a taser or stun bags.
Privacy advocates are already worrying over the spy planes' high-tech surveillance capabilities; the idea of the drones hauling a weapons payload is even scarier. After all, Obama has already set a precedent of targeting U.S. citizens with drones by killing Anwar al-Awlaki last September with a drone strike in Northern Yemen.
There is also the issue of cost. An article by United Press points out the "potentially unfathomable costs of maintaining a vast fleet of drones" during a time of cutbacks in defense spending. And what if terrorists potentially hack a drone and use it against Americans' safety? Some worry the drones could also be used for reasons outside of national security, as they are currently used by EU agricultural inspectors to spy on Europe's farmers, according to the BBC.
The deployment of thousands of drones in the U.S. will have far-reaching consequences. It is time for American citizens to beg the question: Who declared the homeland the battlefield, the enemy or our own government?