Unmanned surveillance drones: They’re not just for war zones any more.
In fact, they’re coming soon to a city, town or sheriff’s office near you.
The FAA predicts 30,000 drones overhead by 2020 after Congress passed an FAA Reauthorization Act in February ordering the FAA to fast-track introduction of drones into American airspace.
They’ll have many good uses, of course: looking for lost kids, missing hikers and adults with Alzheimer’s, fighting forest fires, monitoring our borders, and so on.
But that’s not all.
An Air Force document dated April 23rd, and made available online by the Federation of American Scientists, shows Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley arrogating to himself the authority to use drones to “collect information about U.S. persons.”
While the 30-page memo does say that Air Force personnel can’t use training missions “for the purpose of gathering any specific information about a US person or private entity, without consent,” it goes on to say that any “incidentally acquired information” can be retained, used, and distributed to local law enforcement agencies for the purposes of “preventing, detecting, or investigating” alleged foreign intelligence or terrorist activity, drug dealing, or “other violations” of the law:
Even though information may not be collectible, it may be retained for the length of time necessary to transfer it to another DoD entity or government agency to whose function it pertains.
That phrase “other violations” is, of course, big enough to drive a whole fleet of semis through.
And if Air Force analysts see something interesting in your back yard, they can request permission from a “military commander” to conduct a physical search of your property.
Note this well: For the first time since the Civil War and the passage of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, the U.S. military is now being used against American citizens. At home. In peace time.
Remember the Fourth Amendment?
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Our right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects against all searches except those conducted by warrants issued for probable cause is at the core of our birthright: one of the foundational things that makes America America.
But, in a report released last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee said drones need to be able to operate “freely and routinely” in the U.S. The report also looked forward to large numbers of drones previously used in Afghanistan becoming available for domestic use as we draw down our forces there.
And I haven’t even gotten to the biggest threat yet.
Over 300 local and state police departments have already purchased their own drones and are just waiting for federal permission to use them. And drone manufacturers are salivating at the prospect of marketing drones, some as small as golf balls, to another 18,000 departments across the country.
The Seattle Police Department received permission in April to fly its two unmanned drones. This information became public, not because the SPD announced it, but because of a public records request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Seattle Police had apparently been hoping to keep the whole thing under wraps: Even when confronted with the information, they declined to comment. Only after the Seattle Times gave the story front-page billing did the department even consent to develop written policies for their use.
And surveillance isn’t all these babies can do. A sheriff’s department near Houston is training deputies to fly a $30,000 helicopter drone designed to carry tasers, stun batons and other non-lethal weapons.
But of course we would never take the next step.
Skip celebrating Memorial Day by passing heartwarming pictures around on Facebook. Let’s start honoring the service members who died defending our liberties by taking the time and making the effort to fight for them ourselves. They gave the rest of their lives. Can you give five minutes?
Here’s a link that will find your Congressional representative for you. Type in your zip code, then click on the envelope icon by your representative’s picture. That will allow you to send him or her a message. It’s not enough to be outraged. And the time to speak up is now.