Drones Own American Skies

Unmanned aerial Drones were already flying in American commercial airspace and no one knew about it. According to the Virginian-Pilot:

“Small unmanned surveillance planes routinely hum over Virginia Beach, but few residents seem to know about them. The military aircraft are some of the same drones the U.S. government uses regularly to spy on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.”

These drones are being used to train pilots from Fort Story on Chesapeake Bay. What few people knew, and what was never publicly documented, was that these drones were flying outside military airspace.

“With names like Raven, Wasp and ScanEagle, the reconnaissance planes are among hundreds of drones registered to fly over domestic airspace. The five known to fly locally were made public last month when the Federal Aviation Administration released thousands of documents detailing unmanned aircraft activity across the country. The military, which has to register with the FAA if it intends to fly off base and into civilian airspace, has been licensed to launch drones from Fort Story since at least 2008, according to the documents, but the activity has never been publicized before now.”

So now that it is publicized, how are people reacting?

“Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms said he was unaware of drone flights over the city but said he’s confident the military has taken appropriate measures to ensure privacy. ‘I’m not worried about it,’ he said. ‘I understand they’ve got to do some things that they can’t necessarily talk about.’”

So, basically, a local politician simply puts his faith in the military use of their technology and also affirms that they may need to keep what they do secret. To be fair, the army does insist that it kept its drones over “unpopulated areas” but it is unclear to me how closely the FAA can monitor these flight plans since the drones are so small. But it gets even worse:

“Gov. Bob McDonnell has expressed support for allowing State Police to deploy drones. Nationally, some police departments have used drones to enforce traffic laws or to spy on criminal suspects.”

But the bottom line is that drones are capable of spying on virtually all Americans all the time. Is the marginal improvement that comes from using drones to spy on speeders or “criminal suspects” (does that involve a warrant?) really the reason they are being rolled out. Or is the long term strategy to get Americans accustomed to them, and then use the next emergency to change the way they are used?

It would be naïve to think that the Pentagon does not have a group that watches the public’s response to the release of this information to see how much farther they can go.

Traditionally, prisoners are supposed to be watched while free men and women are supposed to be left alone. At what point does drone spying turn us from a free country to an outdoor prison? Already, there have been reports of drones collecting information they were not supposed to gather.

And what if the United States government changes the policy on what drones may do without telling us? The NSA has already done this, according to at least one whistle-blower. It is not an impossible scenario.

“Amie Stepanovich, an expert in the study of domestic drone surveillance with the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., said there is no enforcement mechanism to prevent the military or other drone operators from spying on U.S. citizens.”

No enforcement mechanism. We are basically at the mercy of the government to police itself while we, the citizens, are kept in the dark.