Drones Pose a Threat to Americans' Privacy

Pressure is mounting to normalize the use of drones in the United States.

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"Don't drone, me, bro!"—that's one way to sum up Charles Krauthammer's heated reaction to last week's news that the Federal Aviation Administration had loosened restrictions on local police departments' use of surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

"Stop it here, stop it now," Krauthammer exclaimed on Fox News's "Special Report" Monday, "I don't want to see it hovering over anybody's home. … I'm not encouraging, but I am predicting that the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that's been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country." 

The neoconservative Krauthammer is rarely mistaken for a civil libertarian, yet here he finds himself to the left of the ACLU. And he has a point. "Drones present a unique threat to privacy," the Electronic Privacy Information Center explains; they're designed to "undertake constant, persistent surveillance," and with special equipment, they're capable of "peering inside high-level windows," perhaps even "through solid barriers, such as fences, trees and even walls."

In several cases, the Supreme Court has held that warrantless surveillance by manned aircraft doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment. But small, cheap, maneuverable, and often undetectable drones may create cases in which a difference in degree becomes a difference in kind.

Pressure is mounting to normalize the use of drones in the United States. A 2010 Department of Defense report emphasizes the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security's need for "routine access to U.S. airspace" in order "to execute a wide range of missions including … surveillance and tracking operations."

The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security, has seven non-weaponized Predator drones in operation, one of which it used to assist a North Dakota sheriff with an arrest last summer, and "the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have used Predators for other domestic investigations," the Los Angeles Times reported in December.

From Miami, Florida, to Arlington, Texas, local police departments have received federal grants to purchase UAVs. Police in Ogden, Utah, used federal tax dollars for a surveillance blimp outfitted with night-vision cameras. "We believe it will be a deterrent to crime when it is out and about," says the mayor.

In an incident that typifies everything wrong with the growing militarization of U.S. law enforcement, members of a Houston-area sheriff's department brought some of their coolest gear out to a defense contractor's training facility last September for a drone demonstration-slash-photo op. The $300,000 "Shadowhawk" UAV they were looking to buy with DHS grant money lost control and crashed into the SWAT Team's "Bearcat" armored personnel carrier (also purchased with DHS boodle).

Not to worry—they bought a Shadowhawk drone anyway. Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel enthused: "I absolutely believe it will become a critical component on all SWAT callouts and narcotics raids and emergency management operations."

Over the past decade, the creeping militarization of the homefront has proceeded almost unnoticed, with DHS grants subsidizing the proliferation of security cameras and military ordnance for local police departments.

On April 19, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Joe Barton, R-Texas, co-chairs of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, sent a letter to the head of the FAA urging the adoption of privacy protections, given the "potential for drone technology to enable invasive and pervasive surveillance." But Congress needn't wait on Obama's FAA to start protecting Americans' privacy rights.

It's well past time we stopped sleepwalking toward dystopia and had a serious public debate about where the lines should be drawn.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute, the author of "The Cult of the Presidency," and a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared

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  1. The neoconservative Krauthammer is rarely mistaken for a civil libertarian, yet here he finds himself to the left of the ACLU.

    Can we please dispense with the fiction that civil liberties are a concern of the Left?

    1. That’s unfair. The left is concerned with liberties. Liberties are a reward that they dispense to certain preferred constituencies when the left is in power and a promise to those same constituencies when they are not.

      1. For them “liberty” means the freedom to use threats and coercion to get their way.

        1. not enough “thems” “theys” to effectively other microagress. it triez moar harder

          1. Not enough decipherable writing to figure out what you are saying.

            1. What do you want? o3 triez moar harder. It’s not its fault it’s a moron.

        2. I, for one, never microagress. I macroagress.

          1. Hyperaggression, it’s the way of the future.

  2. Watch the skies, traveler.

  3. Gene Healy on Why Drones Pose a Threat to Americans’ Privacy

    I’m really glad someone finally wrote an article to explain this.

    1. Gene Healy on Why Bombing Pakistan Threatens Peace with Pakistan

    2. Gene Healy on Why Shit Poses a Threat to Bears’ Woods

      Italicized, if I knew how, which I don’t, so it isn’t.

  4. I don’t see what the problem is–so long as we can still choose to keep our activities private.

    And even with drones in the air, maintaining our privacy is certainly something we can all choose to do.

    Just stay indoors; line the walls with tin foil; board up all the windows; don’t talk on the phone; don’t buy anything online; if fact, stay off the computer altogether; use only cash…

    Hell, maintaining your privacy is actually a great way to save money.

  5. the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country.

    He’ll be a dead folk hero.
    For I’m sure that these drones will be considered police officers, and shooting at one will be met with deadly force.

    1. I’m thinking a net gun and a nice metal footlocker. Want your drone back? Good luck finding it.

    2. I seriously doubt they’d be close enough to the ground to take out with a legal firearm.

      And I would comment about the tension between such fantasies and the libertarian aversion to destruction of others’ property, but you guys have already made peace with that on the RLC issue so I won’t bother.

      1. Moving the goal posts while flogging a straw man.

        At least you’re consistent.

        1. Begging the question, excluding the middle, quid pro quo, propter hoc ergo post hoc, etc.

          Since you’re just listing fallacies that have nothing to do with my post, just thought I’d help out.

          1. But sarcasmic was apropos.

            You’re just waving your arms around and screaming like an idiot.

        2. Here’s a link to Reasonoids fantasizing about destroying and disabling red light cameras.

          Unless some of our most frequent posters hang out in cornfields with sticks up their rears, your strawman accusation fails.

          1. To be sure, we were talking about public property, not private. And to be even more sure, about property used in oppressive ways. And no, I don’t think the shenanigans various governments have been engaged in are somehow “saved” by the fact that running a red light is illegal and often very dangerous.

            Not to mention that talking shit in a comments section is a far cry from advocating anything.

          2. Interesting that no one has responded to the “destruction of others’ property” quip. Here we go. How about the fact that this property was purchased with funds taken by force? I don’t think the usual non-aggression talk holds here.

            1. Damn it, PL! Foiled again.

            2. That was the straw man to which I was referring.

  6. The next logical step in this drone development already exists, in Israel they have already developed the insect sized drones.

  7. Downright scary when you think about it dude. WOw.

    http://www.Privacy-Warez.tk

  8. Yet another example of piss-poor management of this country.

    This most-recent atrocity is square on the doorstep of the Obama administration. Own it, liberals.

    1. Pardon?

      The military is pushing for this, and they’ve been pushing since before Obama was President.

      The military often makes piss-poor decisions.

      It wasn’t Neville Chamberlain, in isolation, saying that they couldn’t do anything about Hitler, the British military, especially the Navy, said “We aren’t ready yet, we can’t fight now, give him what he wants.”

      1. Blah blah blah. The President approves of these policies. Both BHO and GWB are war-mongers. I know it doesn’t fit your little narrative, but try to recognize the fact that, in domestic and foreign policy, there are few differences between the two.

  9. But small, cheap, maneuverable, and often undetectable drones may create cases in which a difference in degree becomes a difference in kind.

    So now Reason is a fan of the precautionary principle? Healy never actually describes such a possible case.

    And TBH, we should be way more worried about the SWAT tanks than the SWAT drones. Drones are only “military” in the same sense as GPS and microwave ovens are military.

    1. In case you have not heard, but lots of people have already been killed by drones, how you can state that things like SWAT drones are nothing to worry about is perplexing.

      1. You’re making the assumption that Tulpa is arguing in good faith.

        That is a bad assumption.

        1. Yes, the mark of someone arguing in bad faith is that they justify every claim they make. Those who barge in with content-free ad hominems, however, are totally trustworthy!

          1. Drones aren’t military? This is a ridiculous statement. Surely you’ve heard of Predator missile strikes carried out against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is that not a military purpose?

      2. Drones don’t kill people, missile launchers attached to drones do.

        1. Yes and SWAT teams would never dream of attaching weapons to drones because …
          Oh let me guess you have defined SWAT drones as drones that never carry weapons, because as everyone knows SWAT is all about surveillance, thats what SWAT stands for.

          1. I’m thinking that those small ones with cameras that hover will be equipped with some sort of a suppressed small arm.
            *pop* *pop* “Suspect is down. Repeat. Suspect is down.”

      3. how you can state that things like SWAT drones are nothing to worry about is perplexing.

        Because they promised that they would never weaponize drones that are used to watch Americans on American soil.

        They promised!

        You can trust them. The would never lie.
        They would never, say, in the name of officer safety, equip small drones with military hardware and use it to kill citizens who are suspected of posing a threat.
        That’s conspiracy talk.

        1. And because it’s possible to mount a machine gun on and drop mines from a police car, we shouldn’t allow police to drive in cars.

          If they start firing missiles from weaponized drones people will know. And then we can have that debate.

          1. And because it’s possible to mount a machine gun on and drop mines from a police car, we shouldn’t allow police to drive in cars.

            Sounds like a plan to me.

            1. here here.

          2. Ok, can we start having that debate now, or should we wait until the (rubber) bullets start raining from the sky?

            http://washington.cbslocal.com…..ic-drones/

            “Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas told The Daily that his department is considering using rubber bullets and tear gas on its drone.”

    2. So are Tanks. You’ve never heard of Frank the Tank, Tank Abbott, or LeBron’s 4th Quarter Tanking?

      1. Tank Abbot lost to Kimbo Slice of all people… not much of a tank after all

  10. On the bright side, drones are less likely to beat you for sittng on the sidewalk with a beer.

  11. But one of the [ostensibly “conservative”] drones on the radio (THAT kind of drone) told me that, “This is what people said when police got helicopters – ‘oh, it’s a military thing, cops shouldn’t have them….'” So we shouldn’t care.

    Yep – I’ll continue not caring and not objecting to EVERY new fucking intrusion into my privacy by the state. Cause it’s all like helicopters were at one time.

    What a fuckstick. And fuck drones. And cops. And California.

    1. And TBH, we should be way more worried about the SWAT tanks than the SWAT drones. Drones are only “military” in the same sense as GPS and microwave ovens are military.

      Shocker – Tulpa the Supplicant is making the same argument above. Enjoy your nice satellite photo – maybe you can frame it and put it on your piano.

  12. I think Krauthammer’s anger is misplaced. It’s the FAA’s job to allow aircraft to operate safely. It’s not their job to decide if police drones violate privacy or not.

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  14. Memphis wants drones:

    http://www.commercialappeal.co…..ny-drones/

    Land of the free and home of the brave: What a load of crap.

  15. It’s well past time we http://www.ceinturesfr.com/cei…..i-c-8.html stopped sleepwalking toward dystopia and had a serious public debate about where the lines should be drawn.

  16. The Drone attacks become the main issues between the two countries, now its interesting to watch how america solve it.

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