Targeted Surveillance: Big Brother Takes to the Sky
Targeted Surveillance: Big Brother Takes to the Sky
Various technologies designed to intrude on our privacy and effectively strip us of our
Constitutional Rightsalready exist. So why all the controversy surrounding the use of
drones? Why do they strike such fear in our hearts? Is it fear of ending up on a secret
“terrorist” list and being ruthlessly hunted down by a metallic harbinger of death? Is it a
simple fear of being spied upon by law enforcement agencies that are not required to
uphold the principle of probable cause? Or is it invasion of one’s privacy?
The United States Air Force and other intelligence agencies began developing
drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) following World War II (Science, 2012). Not
all drones are engaged in spying on or annihilating human beings. Some are extremely
useful in preserving life. Recently, drones have been developed that can spot sharks,
locate lost hikers, monitor crops, gather information from active volcanic craters, and
assess various situations too hazardous to accommodate human investigation.
According to NBC News, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued fewer
than 400 permits for drones. The FAA has, however, has been tasked with fully
integrating drones into U.S. airspace by 2015. Most drones currently tested or in use by
Texas law enforcement agencies are very different from large UAVs used by military or
other federal agencies. Police drones are typically smaller and usually flown within sight
of their operator, unlike military drones which are operated remotely, often from
thousands of miles away. Currently, the FAA only allows drone use in urban areas when
life is in “imminent danger” (KTRK, 2013).
Al Qaeda hijacked airplanes, turning them into weapons of mass destruction.The Patriot
Act which ensued from these terroristicattacks, continues to expand exponentially and
has given the government the ability to invade our privacy, and even deny us our
constitutional rights and freedoms for a perceived protection from terroristic acts.The
fear of a terrorist lurking behind every bush has allowed the government to invade our
homes and private lives.Where will it end?
Equally alarming, or perhaps even more so, is how targeted use of drones is already
being used in some American cities by law enforcement agencies to illegally obtain
evidence. This is another blatant violation of constitutionally guaranteed Fifth
Amendment Rights as well as Fourth Amendment Rights that require Probable Cause
Law enforcement agencies across the country have already added drones to their
arsenals. It has even been proposed that no search warrant is necessary to launch one
of thesetiny unmanned vehicles, completely bypassing the judicial system. Police would
have the power to decide if reasonable cause exists. If the current push to strip
Americans of their Second Amendment right to bear arms is successful, how could we
Privacy laws are not keeping up with rapidly emerging surveillance technologies.
Although drones are illuminating this issue, it is expected that courts will uphold certain
rights to privacy ensured by the Fourth Amendment. Some believe current laws are
insufficient to protect privacy, but regulating drones is just the tip of the iceberg. The
growing need for greater oversight is painfully evident. Street cameras, recent attempts
to acquire one’s email and other social media messages, and Google’s mapping vans
are good examples.
A hodge-podge of state laws regulating drone use are beginning to crop up. Several
states, including Texas, are pushing legislation limiting the use of drones and requiring
a warrant be obtained by law enforcement or other governmental agencies before
deployingdrones to collect aerial photography or thermal data as part of a criminal
investigation.Some bills favor excludinglimitation of drones for selected operations such
as search and rescue. United States Representative Ted Poe co-sponsors the
Preserving America Privacy Act,which proposes to mandate governments to obtain
warrants from a court of law before using drones "to collect information that can identify
individuals in a private area". This Act would also prevent drones being equipped with
weapons (Hans, 2013).
A National policy is long overdue and sorely needed to address how drone use may
violateFifth Amendment Rights designed to protect against governmental abuse.Due
process—the right to a trial before being gunned down—is guaranteed to all American
This right has already been trampled on by the Obama Administration, which continues
to claim legal authority to attack terroristsuspectsno matter where they are.Recently, an
American citizen was targeted, attacked, and killed by an unmanned aircraft, or drone,
on authority of the United States President. There was no due process,only suspicions
of engaging in terroristic activities against the United States.
Obama continues to expand his executive powers granted to the President, who has the
right to order strikes against foreign militants actively at war against the United
States(Roth, 2013). He has claimed American citizens abroad not actively engaged in
war against the United States are fair game for a place of honor on his kill list and can
legally be executed.
When did the President gain the power to single-handedly determinethe criteria that
characterizes and establishes one as a terrorist engaged in war against the United
States?Obama insists that America is a “theater of war” and his drone rulesapply. He
boasts that he alone controls the infamous secretive kill list; no one elseknows who’son
it. What we do know is two American citizens, Awlaki and hisminor son, made the kill list
and were subsequently eliminated (Scaliger, 2013). Who else resides on his list, and
how many are next?
Senator Rand Paul is to be commended for his courage in demanding that Obama
must acknowledge he doesn’t have a constitutional right to kill American citizens without
due process. Without first charging them, providing them an attorney, and allowing a
court to determine their guilt in a legal trial.
Has our fear of terrorism changed our society so much we tolerate a dictator? Who
exactly is minding the store? No laws exist on how data is collected, stored, or used.
Who is accountable? Is it ethical to allow a machine to decide whether or under what
circumstances to kill a human being? These questions must be analyzed and the
American public reckoned with.
Thousands of drones are known to be in use by the American military. How many are
unknown, quietly lurking on American soil, poised for attack, ready to gun down anyone
merely suspected of wrongdoing?The number of drones swarming our skies, whether
the large military type destined to kill or the small police type slated for spying, is
expected to rise to 30,000 or more during next quarter century.(Pinkerton, 2012).Ready
or not, here come the drones.Is one peering through your blinds?
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Hans, G.S. "Drone Privacy Bills Attempt to Protect Americans from Governmental, Commercial
Surveillance." Center for Democracy & Technology.N.p., 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 May 2013.
Miller, Greg. "Drone Wars." Science 336 (2012): 842-43. Web.
Pinkerton, J. "Use of Drones in Community Policing 'unchartered Territory'" Houston Chronicle. N.p.,
25 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.chron.com/news/houstontexas/houston/article/Use-of-drones-in-community-policing-unchartered-3981675.php>.
Roth, K. "What Rules Should Govern US Drone Attacks? | Human Rights Watch." Human Rights
Watch.N.p., 3 Mar. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/03/11/whatrules-should-govern-us-drone-attacks>.
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