Beefed Up Security or Invitation for Disaster? July 2012

Earlier this year, the US Congress and President Obama passed a bill into law, H.R. 658: FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2012 which compels the Federal Aviation Administration to permit the use of up to 30,000 drones (aka UAV’s or un-manned aerial vehicles) to be operated within United States air space to monitor civilian activity for terrorism in addition to use by law enforcement agencies to ostensibly detect other forms of criminal activity. But what makes this issue hit even closer to home for me is that Congressman Lou Barletta, my own representative prior to this year’s redistricting, was a co-sponsor of the bill. Ouch …

You might be asking yourself, “What could be so bad about that?” Unfortunately, the answer is a lot, since the drones are not only a threat to our personal privacy but pose a few other tremendous risks to our general safety and security. When it comes down to it, these drones could pose an even greater threat to the very security they are supposed to enhance, so let’s consider only such probable occurrence of that risk. This past May 14th a mid-air collision involving a corporate jet nearly occurred over Denver and reports speculate that is was none other than a remotely-piloted drone involved in the incident.

The pilot of the corporate jet commented on the object involved in the near-collision: “It looked like a large remote-controlled aircraft.” Although no military or law enforcement agencies have stepped forward to take responsibility for the incident, there is a good chance it did, in fact, involve a UAV. Not quite one month later, on June 11th a U.S. Navy drone crashed in Maryland near Washington, DC. Fortunately, neither event produced fatalities, however, if these types of accidents become common occurrences we could see tragic results in the future.

Drones flying over active war zones don’t typically pose a threat to commercial or civilian planes since those types of aircraft aren’t usually found flying over such areas. However, in stark contrast, flying drones operating in United States airspace do indeed pose a threat to commercial and other civilian air traffic. And it could be safely concluded, could it not, that large number of agencies must be able to readily communicate in order to avoid disasters.

Doesn’t this all beg the question, “Why would the government need to place 30,000 surveillance drones over our heads, anyway?” I can personally only think of one reason: to monitor civilians for terrorist activity, however that activity might be defined by government bureaucrats at any particular time. But, once these ears and eyes are in the skies, even if they are supposedly designated only for tasks such as search and rescue missions, there is no real way to ensure our privacy is being respected or to monitor and control how the devices are actually being used. What is to stop the government from going beyond just hunting for terrorists to actually monitoring our every move and even nailing us for speeding tickets?

Recently, US Senator Rand Paul (R – Kentucky) wrote on CNN’s website, “I do not want a drone monitoring where I go, what I do and for how long I do whatever it is that I am doing. I do not want a nanny state watching over my every move. We should not be treated like criminals or terrorists while we are simply conducting our everyday lives. We should not have our rights infringed upon by unwarranted police-state tactics.” Senator Rand Paul has also introduced S.3287, the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act of 2012, which would force police to secure warrants before employing drones to monitor specific activities.

So far, the case for the drones doesn’t have me convinced that we need them buzzing over the United States, but if you’re still on the fence here’s a scenario to consider: Iran successfully hacks into and brings down one of our drones in one piece. What is to stop a genuine terrorist from hacking any one of the 30,000 of them that will be flying over our heads and using it as a missile — or worse? And what if they were to hack into a weaponized drone? What would the ramifications be, then? I perceive these risks and simply cannot convince myself that we would be any safer with these “assets” in the skies. I will leave you with this quote from one of the Founding Fathers as food for thought: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” attributed to none other than Benjamin Franklin.

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