Drones: The Worst Kind of American Nightmare

droneCharlottesville, Virginia, has just become one of the first cities in the country to  adopt a resolution that  “calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court,” and “pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones.”

Council member Dede Smith, who voted in favor of the bill, says that drones are “pretty clearly a threat to our constitutional right to privacy.   If we don’t get out ahead of it to establish some guidelines for how drones are used, they will be used in a very invasive way and we’ll be left to try and pick up the pieces.

The passed resolution is much less restrictive than the draft originally introduced, which would have sought to declare the city a “No Drone Zone” and would have tried to banned all drones over Charlottesville airspace “to the extent compatible with federal law.” The draft would have also banned all Charlottesville municipal agencies from buying, leasing, borrowing, or testing any drones.

Virginia lawmakers on Tuesday the 12th  approved a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by police and government agencies.  The legislation was supported by the ACLU, the Tea Party Federation and agriculture groups, while several law enforcement organizations opposed the moratorium.   “Our founders had no conception of things that would fly over them at night and peer into their backyards and send signals back to a home base,” said Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, a sponsor of the Senate bill.

Drone use in the United States implicates serious privacy and civil liberties concerns.   While  drones can be used for good purposes and can help save the lives of our military personnel abroad,   they  are also capable of highly advanced and,  in some cases,  almost constant surveillance, and they can amass large amounts of data.  They can also carry weapons.   You can view the Google EEF Map of Domestic Drone Use at this link.

Even the smallest drones can carry a host of surveillance equipment, from video cameras and thermal imaging to GPS tracking and cellphone eavesdropping tools.    They can also be equipped with advanced forms of radar detection, license plate cameras, and facial recognition.  And, as recent reporting from PBS and Slate shows, surveillance tools, like the military’s development of gigapixel technology capable of “tracking people and vehicles across an entire city,” are improving rapidly.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently  released a new drone authorization list in  response to EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.  This list includes law enforcement agencies and universities across the country, and—for the first time—an Indian tribal agency.   In all, the list includes more than 20 new entities over the FAA’s original list,  bringing to 81 the total number of public entities that have applied for FAA drone authorizations through October 2012.

Lawmakers in at least 11 states are proposing various restrictions on the use of drones over their skies amid concerns the unmanned aerial vehicles could be exploited by local authorities to spy, (or worse)  on Americans.  When you consider the recently released CIA memo setting forth criteria for the killing of U.S. Citizens,  is it any wonder that Americans are turning to their state legislatures to protect them?

The CIA “white paper”  appears to be a briefing paper that was derived from the real legal memorandum in late 2011 and provided to some members of Congress.  The memo does not discuss any specific target and emphasizes that it does not go into the specific thresholds of evidence that are deemed sufficient to kill U.S.  Citizens,  instead opting to adopt  an elastic definition of an “imminent” threat,  saying it is not necessary for a specific attack to be in process when a target is found if the target is generally engaged in terrorist activities aimed at the United States.  And it asserts that courts should not play a role in reviewing or restraining such decisions.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, called the paper “a profoundly disturbing document,” and said: “It’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances.   It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority — the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement.”

And, if you are one of those people who just can’t possibly believe that our own government would turn against us,  let’s not forget the words of Obama’s mentor, Bill Ayers,  who in the 1970s  (via FBI informant Larry Grathwohl) said that over 25,000,000 (that’s 25 millions, folks) Americans would likely have to be exterminated because they would be too loyal to the US Constitution, too capitalistic and would not be able to be “re-educated” Soviet style.

The genie is out of the bottle –  Drones are in our world to stay.   Presidents, federal, state and local politicians,  both wise and foolish, will employ them,  probably too easily and far too often.

A government free to kill it’s citizens at will, whether in the U.S. or abroad,  is truly the worst kind of Big Government nightmare.


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