I’m sure some readers have seen media reports that the FAA has been instructed by Congress to draft rules that will permit an immense number of unmanned aerial drones to take to the US skies to do all kinds of aerial surveillance missions either for or against Americans. I say “either for or against Americans” as one can come up with benign as well as malignant uses for this government initiative to conduct virtually unlimited spying on everyone within the USA’s borders. This post will attempt to present a balanced viewpoint on the issue
Aerial, unmanned drones have been used with great success by the US military and CIA in overseas missions which had wartime applications (aerial reconnaissance, bombing missions and targeted assassination missions against Al Queda or Taliban leaders, etc.) Unleashing tens of thousands of aerial drones of all sizes into the US skies would create a very heightened risk of collisions with airliners, private jets, police and media helicopters as well as helicopters used by many hospitals for transporting gravely-injured patients to obtain medical services. The FAA has been given until 2015 to develop the necessary procedures for safely introducing an army of unmanned drones into US skies without aerial accidents occurring all over the nation. Having worked in the past in airport management, I can appreciate the significant risks of collisions if many unmanned drones are flying throughout US skies.
Before discussing the obvious invasion of privacy risks and the likely unconstitutionality of what unmanned drones could do, let’s consider some benign uses of such drones. Unmanned aerial drones could be used to provide a virtually airtight surveillance of the US-Mexican border to prevent not just illegal aliens from crossing the border, but also to prevent drug gangs from infiltrating the US border with their illicit wares. Such drones could be invaluable in searching for lost hikers and campers in forests and rural areas. They could also search out illegal marijuana fields planted in forests and rural areas by identifying marijuana fields with cameras designed to detect the heat signatures of marijuana plants. Drones could also be used to track and apprehend malefactors as they flee from crime scenes after committing robberies and all kinds of crimes, so drones could be used to lower the crime rate. Drones can come in very small, almost invisible sizes so they could be used to fly into forests and city streets where helicopters cannot possibly go. Media outlets would love to buy aerial drones to conduct “on-the-scene” live coverage of newsworthy events. Of course if some media outlets are using manned helicopters and others are using unmanned drones of various sizes, the risks of collisions would be high. Pilots of helicopters and planes can see each other under normal visual conditions, but a small unmanned drone could be all but invisible to them. It would seem obvious that the FAA proposed rule-making would need to require all unmanned drones to have transponders on them so FAA flight controllers do not vector airplanes and helicopters under their control into collision situations. I can also foresee aerial drones having great value in fighting terrorism. There have been reports of Hezbollah sleeper cells in the USA awaiting Iran’s word to conduct terrorist attacks against Americans in the event of an Iranian-Israeli or Iranian-American war. Aerial drones could put a 24/7 surveillance net over them to enable them to be watched. Aerial drones equipped with radiation detectors could fly over and inspect all merchant ships heading to US ports to see if they are emitting a radiation signature which could indicate the presence of a hidden nuclear or “dirty-bomb” device to be detonated in a US port. In summation, there are many uses where aerial drones would be very valuable and would perform necessary and helpful services to the US public and the USA’s national security. The first link indicates drones could even be used to deliver take-out food orders.
Now let’s consider the very significant down-side to aerial drones flying all over US skies. Besides the obvious risks of unmanned drones causing aerial collisions and loss of life to airline passengers, private jet occupants and helicopter crews, there are huge “big brother” and Constitutional issues that need to be considered. The second link and third link discuss the very real risks of American citizens losing all privacy as a result of governments using aerial drones to spy on Americans on a virtually unlimited scale. The second link is a rare example where a prominent Republican conservative, Cal Thomas, and a prominent liberal Democrat, Bob Beckel, agree in a USA Today column that the unleashing of surveillance drones into US skies is a very bad idea. They discuss privacy issues and the fact that using these aerial drones to spy on everyone’s property at will is in serious conflict with the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. Cal Thomas warns that the drones could be used “to identify people attending your backyard barbecue” and Bob Beckel warns that a widespread aerial drone program “is Big Brother at its worse.” It is worrisome that the legislation passed by Congress was written (as is so often the case now) “by a lobbyist for the contractors who build drones” (as Bob Beckel notes). This is another example of a dysfunctional Congress forgetting its primary mission is to safeguard the country, American citizens and the US Constitution and ceding its responsibilities to the lobbyists for the big corporations who buy the services of Congressional members with money.
Obviously, no aerial drone should be used to spy on any American or the properties of Americans unless a court issues a search warrant to permit it. However, it is my understanding that the US Patriot Act gives wide latitude for US governmental agencies to disregard the need for search warrants. All permits for agencies or entities to use aerial drones should be tightly focused to specialized missions, not loosely-worded to permit all kinds of mischief. As this program gets implemented in some form in the future, be sure to contact your Congressional delegation now to make sure the FAA is told to draft rules which require court warrants to invade your personal privacy and which do not violate the US Constitution’s 4th Amendment.
In the hands of a benign government, the aerial surveillance drones would most likely be focused on benign purposes. However, in the hands of a malignant government, great evil could be done. Revelation 13 warns a malignant “beast” system will dominate the globe at the very end of this age before Jesus Christ returns, so Christians (and non-Christians alike) have good reason to do all they can to exert political pressure on elected representatives to put as many privacy safeguards into the aerial drone program as possible. When the beast system persecutes Christians in the end-times, I can even foresee a time when the unmanned drones could be used to look for house churches of Christians. It appears that in the not-too-distant future, if Americans want to keep their activities private, they will have to do things indoors. Even that may not ensure privacy. Some drones could use infrared or voice-monitoring technologies to spy on you indoors through your windows as they hover like a hummingbird outside your windows. Unmanned drones can come in very miniaturized sizes so they can spy on you in a very unobtrusive and virtually invisible manner (see final link).