Drones patrolling US skies spawn anxiety

2012-06-19 22:20

Washington - The prospect that thousands of drones could be patrolling US skies by the end of this decade is raising the spectre of a Big Brother government that peers into backyards and bedrooms.

The worries began mostly on the political margins, but there are signs that ordinary people are starting to fret that unmanned aircraft could soon be circling overhead.

Jeff Landry, a freshman Republican congressman from Louisiana's coastal bayou country, said constituents have stopped him while shopping to talk about it.

"There is a distrust amongst the people who have come and discussed this issue with me about our government," Landry said. "It's raising an alarm with the American public".

Another Republican first-termer, Republican Austin Scott, said he first learned of the issue when someone shouted out a question about drones at a Republican Party meeting in his Georgia congressional district two months ago.

An American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist, Chris Calabrese, said that when he speaks to audiences about privacy issues generally, drones are what "everybody just perks up over".

"People are interested in the technology, they are interested in the implications and they worry about being under surveillance from the skies," he said.

Some of the demand for greater drone access to civilian airspace comes from the military, which will bring home unmanned aircraft from Afghanistan and wants room to test and use them. But the potential civilian market for drones may eventually eclipse military demand.

Power companies want them to monitor transmission lines. Farmers want to fly them over fields to detect which crops need water. Ranchers want them to count cows. Journalists are exploring drones' newsgathering potential. Police departments want them to chase crooks, conduct search and rescue missions and catch speeders.


The level of apprehension about growing drone use is especially high in the conservative blogosphere, where headlines blare "30 000 Armed Drones to be Used Against Americans" and "Government Drones Set to Spy on Farms in the United States."

When Virginia Gov Bob McDonnell, a Republican, suggested during an interview on a Washington radio station last month that drones be used by police domestically since they've done such a good job on foreign battlefields, the political backlash was swift.

NetRightDaily complained: "This seems like something a fascist would do. ... McDonnell isn't pro-Big Government, he is pro-HUGE Government."

John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute., which provides legal assistance in support of civil liberties and conservative causes, warned the governor, "America is not a battlefield, and the citizens of this nation are not insurgents in need of vanquishing."

There's concern as well among liberal civil liberties advocates that government and private-sector drones will be used to gather information on Americans without their knowledge.

A lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation of San Francisco, whose motto is "defending your rights in the digital world," forced the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year to disclose the names of dozens of public universities, police departments and other government agencies that have been awarded permission to fly drones in civilian airspace on an experimental basis.

Giving drones greater access to US skies moves the nation closer to "a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the authorities," the ACLU warned last December in a report

  • fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-19 22:57

    The prospect of the Forth Reich (America) controlling the world with drones. Think about it. People in America killing people all over the world from the safety of an armchair in California. It's an American Dream! "A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny," Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

      Boer - 2012-06-19 23:06

      Ag man jy praat nou k#k booi. I live in America and if you live your life clean you shouldnt be worried if drones fly over your property to protect you.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-19 23:15

      So you need Big Brother to protect you? From what, the bogey man?

      kyle.dinsdale.98 - 2012-06-19 23:50

      i now live in the USA and its a great idea.more security = more freedom to never have to worry about what might happen to your kids and yourself if you wanna catch a late night movie.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-20 01:11

      The whole fear-mongering screed is inane. The elusive boogeyman serves to keep gullible people fearful and united against Big Bad Enemies. I see that it hasn't taken long for you to be brainwashed by wars, violence, uncontrolled gun ownership, fear, paranoia, crime, religion, militarism, Fox News, and mixed with junk food and ever increasing poverty. Home of the Fearful and the Land of the Serfs.

      Peter - 2012-06-20 02:28

      I also live in the USA and have no problem with the drones.If you are doing unlawful things, I guess you would have a problem with them. More difficult to hide marijuana crops etc There is so much stuff about what you do available via other means, what is a drone gonna add? Another difference is maybe in america, even though you don't agree with whoever is in government now, you believe that the government is trying to server the citizens as best they can and not trying to screw them all over.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-20 09:12

      For those who haven’t read Orwell’s classic prediction of our time, 1984 (Big Brother), the government, could tell the “citizens” any lie and it was accepted unquestioningly. A people as gullible as Americans have no future.

  • jahne.erasmus - 2012-06-20 09:33

    Great reference, Mgoqi, reading 1984 at the moment. It is a foreboding and chilling prediction of what will happen when people close their eyes and lose their freedom to the ever watchful oppressors.

  • badballie - 2012-06-20 10:29

    John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute "America is not a battlefield, and the citizens of this nation are not insurgents in need of vanquishing." Senate bill S.1867 which passed with a 93/7 majority does indeed declare the United States to be a Battlefield and will also allow indefinite military detention of American civilians without charge or trial anywhere in the world. (amendment number 1126, which, according to the official Senate Democrats page, was an attempt at “prohibiting military authority to indefinitely detain US citizens” was rejected with a 45-55 vote.) Does Mr. Whitehead realize the implications of his words or even care that he is in fact misleading the American public?

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-20 10:45

      As long as Disney land carries on and Mcdonalds keeps going, all is well. Their poltical system has been taken over by the worst kind of people you could imagine, they are thugs working for the corporate thugs who fund them. Nothing will change until the US population wakes up from their dreamworld.

  • Abrie - 2012-06-20 10:52

    Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. - Benjamin Franklin

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-20 11:28

      The Orwellian "war on terror" has been very successful both economically and in making the U.S population afraid of its own shadow and therefore willing to give up liberty for security.

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