The U.S. government is already well into the throes of a massive expansion of drones on our soil and that’s bad news for anyone who has become accustomed to the American way of life.
To date, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has licensed 327 drones for domestic use. Those currently operating are used for seemingly benign exercises like counting sea lions in Alaska or conducting weather and environmental research. But the government also uses Predator drones, though unarmed, to monitor drug trafficking along U.S. borders, a more contentious use.
But a new law will implore the FAA to increase the number of drones exponentially, to 30,000 in less than 10 years. By 2020 the automated flying machines are expected to fuel a $90 billion industry that will no doubt play a role in law enforcement exercises used to find Americans accused of crimes.
Last year Congress passed the so-called Drone Act requiring the FAA to fully integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System by September 2015 and allow law enforcement, including local police forces, to buy and use drones for evidence gathering and surveillance.
As the expansion of drones into everyday American life continues, the lone exception to this immoderate growth has been on commercial exploration. The FAA has banned all commercial use of drones until regulatory rules are completed, which is scheduled to occur sometime in 2015. While greater study of drones is needed before large-scale private licenses are granted, commercial use of the unmanned flying objects is hardly the greatest concern.
An expansion of drones provides government organizations and law enforcement a tool of incomparable measure to monitor and surveil American citizens with little or no explanation. This is where citizens need to step in and forcefully tell the government “No more!”
An unclassified US air force document detailed by CBS details the unbridled expansion of the government’s use of drones. The document details that the Department of Defense will soon have the power to deploy its own military surveillance drones within the borders of the U.S. without a warrant and can keep video and other data it collects for 90 days.
This could be just the tip of the iceberg. In recent memory, programs like the Department of Homeland Security’s warrantless wiretappings have shown that our government is maladroit at best and willfully malicious at worst in the face of protecting the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. citizens.
A more perfect case-in-point is the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, which was set in motion to deter crime and gun violence in the city, but has since become an almost universally maligned Gestapo-style intrusion into the lives of anyone whose skin is the wrong color. Almost 90 percent of those stopped under the program aren’t even accused of a crime and 87 percent of those stopped were African American or Latino, even though those two groups make up only 52 percent of the city’s population.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has increased the tactic by more than 600 percent since he took office has staunchly defended stop and frisk even though he admits that it’s “under attack” by New York’s citizens. The program has become so unpopular that in June several thousand people marched silently to Bloomberg’s home in Manhattan to protest it. Yet it persists without regulation.
The case will likely be much the same with drones.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced the Preserving American Privacy Act in February in an effort to insert some regulation on drone use. The bill seeks to ban government and law enforcement agencies from using drones to conduct surveillance on individuals or their property without obtaining a warrant. His proposal would also ban outfitting domestic drones operating in the U.S. with firearms or other lethal weapons
Poe’s bill would allow exceptions for emergencies, yet it has failed to even make it to a vote in the House.
This refusal of basic protections from drones should send a clear message to any American who isn’t wary of the program.
Whether armed with the aptly named “Hellfire” missiles or not, drones have no place in a free American society.