Drones are stealing my privacy!


predator droneThe rumor mill received an injection of new fuel after the release of Department of Justice memo outlining the Obama Administration’s legal justifications for drone attacks on American citizens. This led to worries about their use over U.S. soil and renewing big brother-esque speculative predictions for what will come. The privacy of which all Americans are entitled is on the verge of collapse. But is it? How valid is this path of logic that begins with this memo and leads to the sacrifice of personal privacy?

The use of drones as surveillance tools and weapons of war made famous, or more accurately infamous, in the Afghanistan, Iraq and the far-reaching war on terror, has fostered a climate ripe for speculation and conspiracy theories. Concerns, legitimate and not, have returned home to the United States as police departments and other domestic agencies foresee the benefits these unmanned, flying vehicles offer. Drone use hold the promise of increased efficiency and cost reduction in the areas of search and rescue, fugitive apprehension, tracking of illegal drug activity, assessment of natural disasters and assisting with the handling of wildfires. This however does not belay skeptics’ predictions their use over US skies will inevitably lead to unwarranted surveillance of private citizens.

Are these valid concerns? Absolutely. Just as civil liberties are protected in other related areas the use of drones and associated justifications need responsible regulations. Eleven states, including Montana, North Dakota, region, California, Missouri among others, have introduced legislation to deter or regulate the use of drones. Unfortunately, many of these efforts appear more emotionally reflexive rather than thoroughly assessed pieces of legislation.

The emotions elicited by the vehicles’ exceptional surveillance capabilities, the stories of their perceived assassination missions and ability to kill from afar are intense, sparking fear of government-induced police states. More than anything else, however, the moniker itself, drones, does more to conjure fearful of autonomous, flying machines, unseen eyes watching and preparing for who knows what. It’s the subject of innumerable science fiction movies, from The Matrix to The Terminator, where machines take over the world forcing humans into submission all borne of apparent innocuous beginnings. Machines too smart for their own good inevitably turn on their masters. Consciously or not, these are the inherent fears the label “drones” produce in the public mind.

cobra helicopterWhile the roots of these concerns are understandable they are not unique. Similar worries of privacy infringement came out of the first uses of police helicopters and the incorporation of infrared and night vision technologies later on. Blue Thunder comes to mind, a movie about a stealth, cobra-type, police helicopter meant to cast a spotlight on the misuse of emerging technologies. During the 1980’s, public anxiety of a new generation of spy satellites said to be capable of reading a license plate from miles above the Earth’s surface was hotly debated.

It’s not difficult imagining law enforcement agencies piloting military drones through the evening skies, unbeknownst to all those below but the reality is not so ominous. Given the $15 to $34 million dollar price tag, of what’s become the quintessential “drone”, the Predator (in service since 1995) and its subsequent siblings, they are well beyond the shrinking budgets of local police departments. Some may have the opportunity to borrow a drone from their local Homeland Security Office but someone still has toHelicopter Drone foot the bill for its operation. In reality law enforcement is likely to invest in the smaller, less expensive models, the aerial versions of the bomb disposal UAV’s currently in use today. These are unmanned vehicles more akin to a remote controlled helicopter built from Radio Shack parts, just with much better cameras.

The issue, although infrequently articulated, with unmanned vehicles flying high above U.S. soil is the thought does not sit well with the public. However, the difference between a UAV and a human occupied Cessna is minimal as both are human operated. Is remote operation such a significant exception?

Yet, whichever direction this debate takes the the broad strokes of the conversation consistently returns to privacy and the violation, or perceived violation, of it. But if privacy is the core issue in all this then aren’t there more prevalent invasions of one’s personal privacy on a daily basis? Every time you visit Amazon, Google or Facebook every bit of that visit is packaged, picked apart into its miniscule component parts all to find out what makes that particular person tick. The GPS in that smartphone tucked into those pants pocket records where you are at anytime. How many Dateline Real Life Mystery or 48 Hour Mystery crimes were solved in large part due to the cell tower the murder’s phone pinged off at the time of the crime? And if privacy is of such paramount concern then why do so many feel the need to post virtually every random thought online through Twitter and a plethora of other social media sites?

In the end one should ask is there anything happening in your backyard that would bring a high flying drone into the vicinity of your residence? If the type of steak being cooked on that new grill has such prime informational value then that customer review search for the grill, the purchase of it made on Amazon or at Home Depot, the marinade recipe download to the laptop in the kitchen, the type of meat bought on credit at the local Safeway and the tweeted picture of that delicious meal will tell anyone what kind of barbeque you settled on, what your favorite choice of prime rib is, how you like it prepared and the approximate time you sat down to eat it. So in the whole scheme of things, what difference is the occasional robotic flyover really going to matter?

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14 Responses to “Drones are stealing my privacy!”

  1. Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat.Com™ and commented:
    Drones are also responsible for me gaining 4 pounds over winter.

    Idiots who think drones are to blame for one civilian death more than any conventional bombing device are just that, idiots. Bombs dropped from just one legitimate bomber will kill more innocents than all drone bombings combined.

    Idiots truly amaze me.

  2. I appreciate your comments and research into this area, but some of your assumptions are weak. There have been civil cases in our courts of the invasion of privacy using helicopters and infra-red technology, and some arrests and convictions thrown out because of this issue.

    The price of the drones is not an issue when the federal budget is paying for it, as it does a great deal of police gear under the guise of terrorist protection. And yes, your personal privacy rights are being slowly eroded, just see the Patriot Act, and its unqualified suveilance of millions of e-mails and phone conversations.

    As I’ve written before, several police departments have requests in for drones, and the FAA is working out how to integrate pilotless aircraft in our airspace. As I recall, a plan is due in 2014.

    So to claim that all these combined toys are not designed to invade our privacy, or won’t be used for wrongful or illegal searches, is naive at best.

    But thanks for the discussion. This issue needs to be continuously raised.

    • Barney> Thanks for the comments. Just to address some of your points…

      “…but some of your assumptions are weak. There have been civil cases in our courts of the invasion of privacy using helicopters and infra-red technology, and some arrests and convictions thrown out because of this issue.”

      While I don’t make any assumptions that SOME instance of infringement will occur, undoubtedly they will, but they are addressed and corrected in the courts. There are always mistakes or misinterpretations made. This is the case in many different areas of the law. My point with the analogies I made was about the fears people felt in the context the times these new technologies came into use.

      “The price of the drones is not an issue when the federal budget is paying for it, as it does a great deal of police gear under the guise of terrorist protection.”

      Honestly, I do not have much of an issue with this. I support the use of these types of vehicles to assist with law enforcement and other activities in the apprehension of criminals, investigations to gather evidence and to gain a more accurate view of a given dangerous situation like a police standoff, a Waco, Texas situation to better inform the people on the ground.

      But just as now, I cannot see the chances of these vehicles being used upon an individual or group unless there is some reason to bring law enforcement activity to one’s doorstep. Basically, are you worried right now that the police are watching you with existing technologies? No? Why would they? Are you breaking any laws? No. So why would you be any more fearful of them watching you if they had any type of UAV available to them?

      “So to claim that all these combined toys are not designed to invade our privacy, or won’t be used for wrongful or illegal searches, is naive at best.”

      No, I don’t think it is naive at all, Barney. In the general sense I am addressing this issue, I am not making a naive assessment. Now, could there be certain individuals are departments that may use them in a more invasive manner? Yes. Yes, there are in the same manner as those particular individuals or departments use current technologies in questionable ways. Would Joe Arpaio in Arizona use drones in a questionable manner to surveil the Hispanic population or those who may have something against him? Yes, absolutely. I would not put that past him. But should the actions of a few be allowed to outweigh the overall benefits? I guess that will be the debate to have but I don’t think the few should have that opportunity. And to help remedy that there should be regulations, standards and procedures put in place to address the use of these new systems.

      • The question is exactly where the line is crossed in the pursuit of “crimes and criminals.” My examples of past transgressions, such as the widely accepted e-mail interceptions and wiretapping, are what would easily have been considered a massive invasion of our privacy in the past. There is no reason to believe there will not be that same creep into our privacy by drones and other spy technologies.

        Franklin said, “Security at the expense of Freedom brings neither.”

        Freedoms are not taken away in one mass stroke, it is done in one tiny little creep at a time. And I strongly believe that accepting any governments claim that these uses will be strictly limited is silly. Look at their performance so far…

      • Barney> I guess that’s where we reach our impasse. I don’t believe government is inherently given over to subversion. It’s always easy to find a few instances of overreach but looking at the whole, taking the bigger picture into account those instances are infrequent.

  3. My concerns about drones is that they are being used as an assassination tool. Think pack to the biplane era in which bombs were dropped by hand from the cockpit, seque to now, seque to the not so distant future where satelites in orbit with have tracking abilities and lasers (or something entirely new) to pick off individuals at will. How would we even know our government is doing this with all of the secrecy surrounding this. If this drone program is perfectly legal, why are we finding out about it in fits and starts as information is pried loose from this administration, bit by bit?

    I tend not to indulge in such theories but we are losing civil liberties at an alarming rate. Since Americans overseas are being tried in absentia, found guilty, and executed at great distance, I find this alarming.

    • Stephen>
      “If this drone program is perfectly legal, why are we finding out about it in fits and starts as information is pried loose from this administration, bit by bit?”

      Well I’d say to protect its covert nature. The more out in the public, the more the enemy will know about the tactics being used against them and how protect themselves against it.

      “Since Americans overseas are being tried in absentia, found guilty, and executed at great distance, I find this alarming.”

      I interpret the situation not to be one of “Hey, where are the Americans who fighting against us, let’s go get ’em” but more something along the lines of the targeting of terrorist leaders who are always working towards a way to kill more American citizens (and other civilians around the world) and “Oh look he was born in Pennsylvania”, well that person has made themselves a terrorist and is a military target. I may be wrong but I don’t believe there was much special accord given to German-Americans who decided to go fight with the Nazis during WWII.

      Additionally, for me I can see the thought process coming down to 3 things; 1) This is a terrorist planning on causing as much harm as possible in some future attack regardless of nationality. 2) If they are American, what is the possible loss of life to essential American military personnel who would be sent in to take this person alive? and 3) What is the potential loss of life if we choose to do nothing because we cannot take this person alive and they are able to execute whatever plan (or plans) they have in the works?

      To me it’s a matter of saving the highest number of lives so in the end it seems eliminating a terrorist leader, even if they are an American, will save those most lives.

      I know I’m a bit of an odd man out with my fellow Democrats or left leaning friends out there but that’s the pragmatic perspective I have of this issue.

  4. The main thing we have to remember about drones and other policies or new weapons is that while a leader you like may have his or her finger on trigger: someone you detest may in just a few years. Assuming the GOP is gone for good is naive I think.

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