Domestic drones not going away anytime soon

Drone

Like it or not, drones in domestic skies are here to stay but it isn't all bad. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

There has been some controversy lately about the domestic use of drone aircraft, usually confined to forward operating areas, to patrol the United States. For a number of reasons, security concerns being among the least of them, they aren’t getting grounded anytime soon.

Taking pictures that can prove

In February, according to MSNBC, the Federal Aviation Administration received clearance from the White House to authorize more drone aircraft to patrol various areas. Ordinarily, drones are used by the armed forces. Unbeknownst to many, it has been going on for some time, as 61 authorizations were granted for domestic drone flights since 2006, 31 of which were for federal agencies. Of the remaining 34, 20 were for universities, ostensibly for research purposes, with the rest granted for police.

Not everyone is thrilled about it. A Monmouth University poll found 64 percent of respondents were greatly concerned about privacy of citizens being maintained, though the same portion were in favor of  drones for use in curtailing illegal immigration. Further, 80 percent were in favor of drones being used in search-and-rescue missions and 67 percent favored using drones to track criminals.

Though there are practical purposes for them, the idea of constant surveillance borders on the Orwellian. However, they are likely to become a fact of life.

Long history of surveillance

Like it or not, there is a long history of covert, and also illegal, surveillance by the federal government. For instance, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a secret program called COINTELPRO, or Counterintelligence Program, begun by J. Edgar Hoover. The program, ostensibly to observe communists, according to PBS, was used to monitor “subversives,” which often included civil rights leaders; Martin Luther King, Jr., for instance, was under constant surveillance, as was the NAACP. Illegal break-ins, called “black bag jobs,” and wiretaps were commonplace.

Other figures under surveillance included John Lennon and oddly enough, according to the New York Daily News, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath. Perhaps the FBI were Colts fans.

COINTELPRO was discovered in the early 1970s as the result of the Church hearings, a set of Congressional hearings on FBI activities, which caused an enormous scandal. However, authorization for surveillance has only increased under the PATRIOT Act.

Big business

President Dwight Eisenhower, essentially the biggest military hero of the mid-20th century, cautioned against the growing “military-industrial complex,” which could pose a grave threat by combining military interests with corporate interests. Whether it has really come to harm the nation is a subject of contention.

Drones are just a part of the overall defense industry, but it is hardly small. According to USA Today,  drones are currently a $6 billion industry unto themselves, which is expected to practically double within the decade.

However, there are still a number of applications for them. According to the Huffington Post, unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs as they are often called, also have applications in air traffic control, atmospheric and weather research and also film production. Jumping to the worst conclusions is understandable; it isn’t as if the American government is beyond resorting to Orwellian overtures. There may be benefits that aren’t known to having the technology available. Hopefully, some oversight will be applied.

Sources

MSNBC

PBS

NY Daily News

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/story/2012-06-19/drone-backlash/55682654/1

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/drone-lobbying-companies_n_1546263.html

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