Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s … a drone, and it’s watching you. That’s what privacy advocates fear from a bill Congress passed this week to make it easier for the government to fly unmanned spy planes in U.S. airspace.
The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015.
Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well.
“There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities,” said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
There’s plenty of reason for concern here, and Congress just doesn’t seem up to the task. Having established the precedent that the president can order the death of an American terrorist overseas via drone aircraft, it’s not all that large a leap to conceive of the same thing happening here. And given how the FBI and DHS have categorized threats of late, the slope gets a bit slippery. Google and Facebook both have very deep pockets and a demonstrated history of harboring zero respect for privacy. They’ll find a reason to build their own drone fleets, as will other corporations. Local and state governments will love the new toys, and will find all sorts of uses — legitimate and not — for them. Among other things, drones will become yet another expensive “must have” for the up and coming political police chief. Factor in improved imaging tech that can see through walls and the like, and we all could be living in houses of glass soon enough.
It also says quite a bit about our national priorities, when Congress orders the FAA to expedite drone aircraft approval despite the obvious and less obvious problems, while the administration drags its feet on far more vital issues like the Keystone XL pipeline.
We’re in the very best of hands, is what I’m saying.