Guest Column: The drones are coming

By Craig Campbell

Privacy appears to be the major concern of most Americans, considering the revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) is data-mining millions of domestic electronic communications. And yet, no one appears to understand that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is about freedom “against unreasonable searches and seizures,” not a guarantee of privacy. Privacy is a personal matter, but freedom is the essence of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is planning to allow Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, into the U.S. domestic air space by 2015. The use of drones by federal, state and municipal agencies, as well as by business and personal use, is thought to be worth billions of dollars. It is a lucrative industry whose time has come. Everyone wants to cash in on it, and it is the FAA’s role to administer and license UAVs in our air space. So, if you have concerns about your “privvacee,” as the Brits would say, make your feelings known to the FAA, your congressman or senator.

Personally, I think American culture will take to drones like kids in a candy store, tripping over each other to have the newest, latest, greatest toy on the block.

Municipal agencies will take to it for policing (and you thought scanning was reserved only for land vehicles) and crowd control, taxation, surveying, planning and agriculture, forestry and resource management, and whatever your imagination can conceive of. Business will use it for economic planning and development, insurance and litigation, research and forecasting, consumer behavior and whatever your imagination can conceive of. (Just think what flying advertising will mean for business!) The use of UAVs is endless in the blue skies of America, and we are only considering the legal uses of this technology. Just think what less-than-stellar individuals and organizations will apply this technology for?

When the use of UAVs is formally licensed and certified for U.S. air space, privacy will disappear like the carrier pigeon, and freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures” will be a historical footnote in American history. What this means is that there will never be a time when you can walk out into your own back yard, city street, local park, forest preserve, river or stream without some agency or business knowing you are there and noting it in some database for future reference. The eyes and ears of whomever are watching and listening in the sky above, secure in the knowledge that “we know what you are doing.” How does that make you feel?

Personally, I think a culture nurtured on consumerism, sensationalism and the Smartphone won’t bat an eye when the peeping drones appear in the bushes, hedgerows, gardens, neighborhoods, streets, cities, country roads and byways of America. Who cares about the freedom to think and be alone; to fly fish on some remote, isolated stream; to golf with your friends; to picnic with your children; to do whatever you previously did in “freedom” without the knowledge of or predictability of “Big Brother” watching? When UAVs become the norm in America, you can assume your behavior is still private; and I am certain endless legislative and legal means will be enacted to secure your so-called “privacy.” But what you considered your own “castle” and fortress from the world will simply be a silent, voiceless caricature of dots and o’s on some database flying overhead, in your car or whatever your imagination can conceive of. As for freedom, that went out of fashion a long time ago in a land far, far away.

Craig Campbell is a local historian and publisher.

From the March 19-25, 2014, issue

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