Monday, November 28, 2011

The Unfriendly Skies

A couple of weeks ago, I noted the use of unmanned drones along the border with Mexico to keep out immigrants and drug smugglers. It turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg. Soon, we'll be able to look up from our back yards and see those little aircraft swarming overhead, at least that seems to be the plan.

Drone aircraft, best known for their role in hunting and destroying terrorist hide-outs in Afghanistan, may soon be coming to the skies near you.

Police agencies want drones for air support to spot runaway criminals. Utility companies believe they can help monitor oil, gas and water pipelines. Farmers think drones could aid in spraying their crops with pesticides.

"It's going to happen," said Dan Elwell, vice president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Assn. "Now it's about figuring out how to safely assimilate the technology into national airspace."

That's the job of the Federal Aviation Administration, which plans to propose new rules for the use of small drones in January, a first step toward integrating robotic aircraft into the nation's skyways.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I have to admit that the proposed uses all seem reasonable enough. Tracking criminals fleeing or monitoring pipelines are both socially useful activities and taking advantage of advances in technology initially designed for military use is not necessarily an evil. After all, we all cheerfully use the internet and even rely on satellites for our cell phones and GPS car systems.

This, however, just feels different.

I'm uncomfortable at just one more bit of intrusion in my privacy. I don't exactly relish the thought of being watched whenever I'm outside my home by a small (soon to be miniaturized) eye-in-the-sky being operated by my own government. It smacks too much of the dystopias described by George Orwell and Philip K. Dick. And I also am nervous about the fact that arming those drones is easy enough.

If, as the article notes, the FAA is already formulating rules for the use of the drones so they do not pose any safety hazards for our commercial aircraft, then these proposed uses for drones appear to be already in the works. And this has been done without any national discussion that I am aware of. I guess the powers running this country have made their decision: the Fourth Amendment is only so much fluff written on a mere scrap of paper.

And that is a shame. A damned shame.



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