Drones, from Pakistan to America: Constant Surveillance


In March, the Islamic Post (IP) printed an article on drones flying in the US and President Obama signing the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, a bill that contains requirements for integrating drones into the US airspace and places stewardship with the FAA. It would be an exercise in futility to argue against the use and presence of drones in the skies of America, since Congress blessed the endeavor with funding  to a tune of $63 billion, along with  a pervasiveness of security cameras in US cities such as Chicago, New York, the District of Columbia  and San Francisco.  Americans have been primed for constant surveillance;  albeit voicing the rules of law governing surveillance and privacy, such as obtaining a warrant and safeguarding the fourth amendment to the Constitution on privacy is the duty of every American. According to a poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports in 2012, 52 percent of voters opposed the use of surveillance drones compared to 30 percent who favored it, while 17 percent were indifferent. The IP asked then:  how far will the government go in using drones in America? The question is raised again.

Drone technology can survey 24/7 without the individual being aware of the presence of the drone. This raises a flag on legality and privacy issues.  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been asking the FBI very pointed questions on how the Bureau plans to use drones in monitoring Americans, such as what are the limits to their use, what are the capabilities of the technology.  Keep in mind – this technology is not new, it has been used in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – killing many innocent people based on drone intel.  In 2012, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said that at least 285 drone missions occurred in America by September 2011, secretly, without reason, warning or knowledge of American citizens.  Additional research found, according to congressional testimony in 2012 presented by the Government Accountability Office, and testimony introduced by House Homeland Security Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Michael McCaul (R.-Texas), the FAA had authorized 106 federal, state and local government “entities” to fly drones within US airspace as early as January 1,  prior to the signing of the Act. McCaul further stated, “Currently, there are about 200 active Certificates of Authorization issued by the FAA to over 100 different entities, such as law enforcement departments and academic institutions, to fly drones domestically.”  Americans need to know and understand how this technology is and will be used, when and where drones will fly, along with the application of the data collected.  No secrecy.

Thus far, the FBI has responded to the Senator’s letter(s) that drones will not be armed and will not be used in arbitrary surveillance of Americans. This would be somewhat reassuring if it were not for the fact that the rules of law are changed on a whim and constitutional rights are ignored when the situation behooves the government. The Fourth Amendment protects the right of a person to be secure in his house against unreasonable searches, violating his privacy.  The authorities are stretching to the unconstitutional illegal  limit of probable cause in searches without a warrant. The rule book has been rewritten, the Constitution encroached; do we really know what probable cause is and who will make that determination? Will the definition change according to the Oval Office, FBI, CIA, NSA, or any other three  letter acronym for a government agency;  justifying a drone to spy into the homes of Americans or where it’s the “ reasonable expectation of privacy”, without a warrant or even to fire on citizens?

One agency that was not addressed by the Senator is the Customs & Border Patrol also known by its three letter acronym, CBP. In response to the EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on the disclosure of drones flying in the US,  it was discovered the CBP has considered adding “non-lethal” weapons to its domestic Predator drones. These are the same drones used in Pakistan.

There are positive uses for drone technology such as in agriculture, geological surveying, delivery of medicine and relief in disaster stricken areas.  Such use is not a concern and would be welcomed. The FAA’s Jim Williams, in the March article, dismissed concerns over privacy saying, “The FAA has no authority to make rules or enforce any rules relative to privacy. We can ask [the industry] to take into consideration the privacy issue. … There aren’t any rules to date on that.”  This should cause serious concerns for Americans.

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