North Dakota is quickly becoming a hub for domestic drone activity. In June 2011, Nelson County cops made the first on-record arrest of American citizens with the aid of a Predator drone, the legitimacy of which will soon be decided by a local court.
The University of North Dakota now offers a major in drone piloting, and according to the StarTribune, the brains behind the program seem pretty nonchalant about the invasions of privacy this technology can lead to:
The university also serves as an incubator for companies that might want to expand the industry. In five days, Unmanned Applications Institute International, which provides training in operating drones, can teach a cop how to use a drone the size of a bathtub toy.
"If you're concerned about it, maybe there's a reason we should be flying over you, right?" said Douglas McDonald, the company's director of special operations and president of a local chapter of the unmanned vehicle trade group. "But as soon as you lose your kid, get your car stolen or have marijuana growing out at your lake place that's not yours, you'd probably want one of those flying overhead."
This rationale for the transparency of civilian activity does raise an interesting question. If law-abiding citizens should have nothing to hide from drones, why exactly are the government branches behind drone development being so secretive? Says the StarTribune:
And for all the assurances, there is much that isn't said or revealed. Some of the equipment used by the university can't be seen by the public because of federal privacy rules. Although legal, anyone photographing outside the base can find themselves being questioned by county, state and Air Force law enforcement. When asked how many times U.S. Border Protection has dispatched drones at the request of local police, a spokeswoman for the agency said it does not keep those figures.
If total transparency is the want, common sense indicates that both sides should be transparent. Drones obviously aren't going away, so it's time for a little less secrecy on behalf of the state.