'Civilian' Drones: Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood?

If government will just relax its regulatory chokehold, private drones could fill the skies with happy new possibilities.



Drones—unmanned flying machines—will soon fill our skies. They conjure up fears, especially among some of my fellow libertarians, of spying and death from above.

These fears aren't groundless. President Bush approved the use of armed drones against suspected terrorists overseas, and President Obama vastly increased their use. Drones have killed thousands of people in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, countries against which we have not declared war.

Drones keep getting more sophisticated. The Air Force is now developing what it calls Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs), tiny drones that can quietly search for an individual terrorist and then kill him with explosives or even incapacitate him with chemicals.

So far, America has killed with drones only outside America. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) famously filibustered Obama's nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, demanding that Americans first receive clarification on the government's policy regarding use of lethal drones within the U.S. Finally, the attorney general responded, "Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no."

Good for Sen. Paul. Technology itself is not evil, but what government does with it should be determined by clear rules.

The next controversy will center on the increasing use of "civilian" drones. Researching a documentary, Policing America, I was surprised to learn that I could buy a "personal" drone for only $500. For another $700, my TV staff added a camera to it. These are terrific devices. Vacationers use them to videotape family trips, farmers to check crops, police to search for missing people.

Soon, most everyone might have one. In the six months since I began researching Policing America, drone prices have dropped sharply. Recently we bought one—admittedly, a flimsy one—for just $50. That includes a camera.

Our too-big government will try to quash this innovation. This week the Wall Street Journal reported that government standards "are at least four years away" and quoted a bureaucrat who said, "The incremental approach is essential." So the FAA sends "cease and desist" orders to restaurants that use drones to deliver food to remote areas, realtors who show off houses, movie makers and journalists who use drones to get aerial footage of disasters, protests, celebrity weddings, etc.

"Commercial use" is illegal, says government (regulators don't like business). Fortunately, some entrepreneurs ignore the restrictions. Martin Scorsese used a drone to videotape parts of Wolf of Wall Street. It's great when people practice civil disobedience against idiot regulators.

The FAA is right to worry about air safety, but that can be handled less intrusively with rules that ban drones near airports.

Of course, private drone use can get creepy. A woman in Connecticut recently attacked a drone operator at a beach because she was angry about being spied upon.

Like a good libertarian, Sen. Paul realizes that ambiguous property rights are the real problem. He jokes that his neighbor has a drone: "If I see it over my property, my shotgun's coming out."

America already has peeping-Tom laws. I can look through my neighbor's window, but I can't legally get my stepladder and spy over his fence. State courts will work this stuff out.

As usual, the market will probably produce the best solutions, just as algorithmic anti-spam programs proved more effective than useless anti-spam laws. An aerospace engineer emailed me that he's created a Drone Shield you can use to spot unwelcome intrusions.

That will get trickier as drones become smaller and quieter—I've seen video of new ones that resemble hummingbirds. But detection technology will improve as well. That constant feedback and competition is how all technology advances.

Technology itself is rarely a bad thing. What matters is the endless power of the market to refine and improve how we use it. If government will just relax its regulatory chokehold, private citizens will find safe ways to deliver food, rescue lost cats and fill the skies with happy new possibilities

NEXT: Googly-Eyed Santas, Rude Frogs, and Other Adventures in Beer Label Censorship

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  1. Noooooo!!! My delicious comments!

    Sarc, I told you this would happen!

    1. Why is it necessary to destroy my handcrafted, artisan comments when fixing a post?

  2. It’s great when people practice civil disobedience against idiot regulators.

    In what other ways is breaking the law “great”? This is an a la carte menu, I presume?

    1. A: Regulations are not laws.

      B: you should know the answer by now given the time spent here.

      1. I do know the answer. The only legitimate laws and regulations are the ones you personally think are cool, and anything else is TOTALLY EVIL.

        1. Any law or regulation that infringes on the rights and liberties of the individuals of this country is evil.

          1. Tony is physically incapable of abstract thought. Well, of pretty much any thought for that matter. He knows what he feels, what authority has told him, and not much else.

            1. I’m curious why so many political sites and blogs have regulars that don’t agree with the blogs premise. It would be one thing to go to the site to learn another point of view and maybe debate it. That would make sense if that were the purpose, but it’s quite another to just throw grenades just for the sake of it. Nobody learns anything. It’s just a waste of time.

              It’s quite silly, actually.

              1. Libtards seem to like libertarian sites because intolerant libertarians generally don’t censor views that they don’t like.

                On the other hand, you don’t see many libertarian comments on tolerant liberal sites. They consider libertarian comments to be intolerant, so in the name of tolerance they censor them.

                1. I’ve noticed quite a few conservatives hell-bent on war posting at libertarian sites as well.

                  Statists on both sides seem to frequent libertarian sites. It’s as if they want to stomp out the idea of the non-aggression principle before it has a chance to spread. The personal liberty thing neither big government party seems to like much either.

              2. It’s just a waste of time

                That’s the whole point: to waste everyone’s time and be a mendacious little shitstained troll. That’s all Tony and Palin’s Buttplug are around here (I don’t recall seeing your handle very much until recently, so I’m assuming you’re somewhat new here).

                1. I’ve read the articles here for a few years. Was leery of posting here due to the immature nature of many of those who post here. At times it reminds one of junior high school: “I know you are, but what am I”. That kind of thing.

                  I would think the whole point of a libertarian site would be to promote the non-aggression principle since that’s what libertarianism is built around.

                  1. I would think the whole point of a libertarian site would be to promote the non-aggression principle since that’s what libertarianism is built around.

                    Good point, but it could be argued that obnoxiously trolling the comment threads in an attempt to derail any meaningful duscussion is a form of agression.

                    IOW, “HE STARTED IT!!1!!!” *pout*

                    The thing that’s most annoying is that it works so often. I mean, here we are spending over half this comment thread debating WTF is wrong with Tony instead of discussing Stossel’s article (and yes, I realize I’m guilty of contributing to the problem as I type). Oh well, I guess that’s why they do it: because they can.

              3. I find it bizarre that people would want to spend their time talking only to people who agree with them. What’s to learn in that scenario?

                I’m actually a very open-minded person. That you haven’t convinced me to buy into libertarianism should worry you, for reals.

                1. I’m actually a very open-minded person.

                  Ha! Hilarious! Tell another one.

                  1. Tony forgets a third possibility that other people might come here and find a truth that they verify independently. I didn’t need convincing, over powered, or arm wrestled into reasoning out the natural progression from self ownership and non-aggression. Some people like a violence based state oppressing society, others prefer a voluntary society. Convince those that willfully embrace violence? Hmmmmm….

        2. Actually, UnCivilServant was (I believe) alluding to the larger point that regulations (i.e. directives issued by executive agencies) are not laws (i.e. they were not enacted by Congress).

          Congress has in numerous cases “delegated” to executive agencies lawmaking power with broad “authority” nominally connected to their purview.

          It should be trivially obvious that these are not laws because the President can, completely legitimately and without Congressional approval, unilaterally void them with the stroke of a pen.

          The legitimate regulatory authority of the government consists solely in regulating itself; i.e., policies governing the actions of federal employees in the course of doing their jobs.

          1. The problem is that the Constitution is a meaningless piece of paper. That’s all it is unless it is enforced. Since the Constitution was created to list the very few powers that the federal government has it’s safe to say that the federal government isn’t going to enforce those limits on itself.

            Since the states have rolled over and played dead for over a century and too many of the people’s of the states vote to get other people’s property (money) it’s safe to say that my claim is correct: the Constitution is a meaningless piece of paper. Nobody is enforcing it.

            1. I agree, a democracy only functions honestly if a majority of people want it to be honest.

              Our government is not honest, so therefore a majority must not want it to be honest. To me, part of understanding the politics of our country is realizing that fact. People complain about the dishonesty and fraud of government only when it is inconvenient to them and their agendas.

              Ultimately, any peaceful change in government will require convincing a majority of people to agree with me. And any non-peaceful change is going to require violating the very same principles I am trying to get the government to respect.

      2. B: you should know the answer by now given the time spent here.

        He should, but he doesn’t. He simply cannot wrap his feeble mind around the concept of principles. All he understands is like and don’t like.

        1. He will never understand, because he has no desire to. I don’t like the fact that retards reproduce at such a high rate. I don’t like the fact that people smoke meth. I don’t like the fact that socialist and socons scream absurdities in public. Yet I’m still against laws banning such things, because I understand its none of my, or the governments business.

          1. He will never understand, because he has no desire to.

            I disagree. I believe he is physically incapable of abstract thought. He’s what we called a “tard” in my youth.

            1. Just my two cents (one cent after taxes): As someone who voluntarily works with retarded kids (the politically correct term would be special needs children) I don’t think it’s cool to make fun of kids who are handicapped due to no fault of their own (and often no fault of the parents either).

              As a child I made fun of retarded people because I was young and immature. Now that I’m old and immature I know that wasn’t cool at all.

              Maybe you could just call him a dipshit and leave it at that. I may be wrong, but I believe that anyone who is a dipshit has nobody to blame for it but himself.

              1. I suppose calling Tony a retard is an insult to retards.

                1. Yes. On my own time after I work forty hours a week so that the State can take half of the money I make at gunpoint.

                  So far the State hasn’t prevented me from helping handicapped kids.

                  1. So far the State hasn’t prevented me from helping handicapped kids.

                    Nothing a few new licensing requirements couldn’t “fix.”

                    1. If anyone cared, I could actually tell stories about how the State makes it more difficult for individuals to help though charity those in long term care facilities. The State creates so much pain for so many.

                1. I wonder if they got the idea for the title of that song from Buddy in the first Rocky movie.

                  Rocky should have broken his thumbs like he mentioned afterwards.

        2. The concept of principles? My field of study was the history of thought, you ridiculous halfwit. The problem is you can’t wrap your mind around anything more complex than a cliche.

          1. The problem is you can’t wrap your mind around anything more complex than a cliche.

            You mean like “not taking is giving and not giving is taking?”

            Or “the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer?”

            Is that what you mean by cliches?

            Here’s the deal, Tony. You can’t understand abstractions. You’re like this idiot cook I worked with for whom every stuffed chicken dish was a completely different recipe. I saw it in the abstract. You had stuffed chicken and sauce. The different recipes were different stuffing and different sauces, but in the abstract they were all the same. But he couldn’t think that way. To him they were all completely different.

            You’re like him. You can’t understand abstractions.

    2. Right! And those “idiotic regulators” are selfless, noble protectors of the common good! Why, without them the EVUL KKKORPORASHUNZ could easily kill us all! Because deliberately killing your customers has always been the best business model. Everyone knows that, except for you heartless, evil LIBERTARDIANZ! Amirite?! /sarc

      DIAF you mendacious cuntwaffle.

      1. Cuntwaffle…does Sam’s Club carry those in their freezer section?

        1. Yep, on sale for $5.00 a dozen.

          1. What flavors? Tuna or cheese?

            I don’t have it in me to contemplate “syrup” for cuntwaffles.

  3. What’s the over/under on people starting up a drone-fighting league, like the old ‘Robot Wars’ but with an aerial twist?

    I get 10% for the idea – and free tickets.

    1. Can I set up Flak batteries?

      1. Those will be available for a small additional charge.

    2. That would be fucking awesome.

  4. Aside from an FAA directive reminding you not to fly your drones (commercial or personal) above 500′ or in the approach and departure corridors of your local airport, is there anything else that can’t be handled at the state/local level?

      1. Memory tells me that 500′ is the lowest altitude for some private planes. I could be mistaken.

  5. Am I a Crank for envisioning a rain of drone bits and, say, hot pizza over some denser metropolitan areas?

  6. I think the challenges will begin when people start using these drones to kill each other and do other mischief.

    1. Why not. If the government can kill you at will why not your neighbor?

      1. And , no one will even know which neighbor did it.

        1. While autonomous drones* are possible, any serious use of drones involves some form of remote control and reporting. This can be tracked, especially if it uses public infrastructure (cell networks etc.) or high-powered transmitters (for long-range kills). Even short-range stuff is generally going to be traceable, since it’s unlikely that there will be dozens of drone-geeks within range of the deceased.

          * = Pedants may note that the phrase “autonomous drone” is in fact redundant, and we are actually talking about UAVs which can only properly be called “drones” when no direct control is involved.

          1. There exists these wierdos now-a-days that drive around looking for open routers in people’s homes. These are rookies. The pros are capable of getting into the routers in the most ingeniously simple ways.

            But once they are in, they pumb through un-godly content to the dark web, WITH THE HOMEOWNER’s return address on it.

            I think using a drone as a killing machine would be rather trivial and, as always, one or two idiots ruin it for the rest of us.

            1. 1. Even the “pros” can’t break into a properly secured wireless network. That having been said, most people do not properly secure their wireless networks. Of course, your wireless signals being visible to others is an inherent property of electromagnetism.

              2. “The dark web” generally refers to something like Tor or Freenet, where your identity is masked pretty heavily. It is very difficult to trace such connections back to the originating IP address.

              3. The police and prosecutors have burdens of proof to charge and convict a person of a crime, and “this IP address accessed this content” doesn’t rise above “reasonable suspicion” that the person(s) associated with the IP address were involved with the crime. It is certainly not “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

              4. The possession of information, regardless of how offensive it may seem, should never be criminal. The real offense might be using your network as a staging point to attack other networks, but again the burden of proof falls upon the state to establish who actually committed the crime.

              You can certainly make cases for changing the law, but those changes should result in more freedom for people, not less.

              1. kbolino,

                Recently, and I will try to find it for you, a jurisdiction ruled that leaving an unsecure wireless connection for phedophiles to run kiddy porn through is the fault of the person that didn’t secure.

                I almost fell out of my seat when I saw it.

                1. Without knowing any more, that is an asinine ruling. If somebody enters your house uninvited and rapes a child in it, are you responsible for the rape?

                  Our legal system is all kinds of fucked up, but passing laws that limit people’s freedom is not the solution.

              2. TOR is NSA’s bitch.

        2. Yeah they will. It will be the one who suddenly stopped flying his drone in his back yard.

    2. While you are undoubtedly correct about the animistic minds of many people, murder is in fact illegal and will remain so for the forseeable future.

      There’s nothing special about a drone kill* that merits a new law.

      * = And if you fall within the President’s disposition matrix, it doesn’t even count as a kill!

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