Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN


March 25, 2013

America's coming surveillance society


The Electronic Frontier Foundation through a Freedom of Information Act request discovered that 358 public institutions, including 14 universities and colleges, have permits to fly them.

This means that machines that can film people not accused of a crime and store the information indefinitely could soon be hovering over your home and neighborhood because the owners and/or the operators feel like it.

According to a recent report by NBC News, the FAA estimates that about 10,000 commercial drones will be flying in the U.S. by about 2020, fueling many schools to start offering training for unmanned aircraft. Who could be against jobs, right?

Before all these programs start, taxpayer dollars are spent, and gazillions of images are stored, shouldn't the public and its representatives thoroughly debate the parameters of how the machines can be used?

It took a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court last year to tell law enforcement they needed a warrant to track people via GPS, so it's clear once technology is available, government officials and others will use it regardless of the ethics - and constitutionality of it.

I don't know if Americans are yet prepared to become residents of London, where cameras blanket the city, and do not think current law adequately protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure linked to information gathered from unmanned aircraft.

It is also scary to think of how drones dehumanize people. Information generated by them transforms individuals into data points to be analyzed by big government or big business in the same way that they do to enemy combatants. Using a weaponized video game to protect U.S. citizens is one thing, but to turn them loose on Americans, even for civilian reasons, should not be a natural progression.

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have been told it's necessary to sacrifice civil liberties for safety. But the vast majority of new government powers have been used not to monitor terrorists, but for traditional law enforcement.

Just because technology exists does not mean it should be used.

Without people like Sen. Paul questioning government, however, cradle to grave surveillance will become as American as obesity and bankrupt entitlement programs.

- Marta H. Mossburg is an independent columnist. Contact her at marta@martamossburg.com.

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