Society Magazine

Drones Over Des Moines: Or, UAV’s in the Heartland

By Berniegourley @berniegourley
Source: Wikipedia; User: Dammit

Source: Wikipedia; User: Dammit

National Geographic has an interesting and well-timed article in this month’s issue called The Drones Come Home. I say well-timed because of all of the attention that Senator Rand Paul’s recent filibuster received. Senator Paul was filibustering the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director, but his true purpose was to bring attention to the lack of transparency on policy regarding the use of drone strikes on U.S. soil. You’ll recall from your Civics classes that the 5th and 6th amendments (supported by other laws) require legal due process be conducted before anyone gets, to use the mafia-esque term, “whacked.”

The impetus for all this discussion of drones is the Obama Administration’s 2012 direction to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to open the skies to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) by September 30, 2015.

It should be noted that the use of armed drones for execution missions is only the most dramatic of many legal issues that will arise with the proliferation of this technology. The National Geographic article devotes more space to the use of drones by state and local law enforcement than they do to that of the Federal government.

Some other new legal considerations will include:

Searches:  I suspect that well before any government is terminating U.S. citizens at home with such devices, they will be using them for surveillance and investigation (i.e. spying.)  The Constitutional standard is that law enforcement can act on any evidence that can be seen from a place they legally have a right to be. So if you’ve got a stolen car in your front yard, they can arrest you.  However,  if the police get an anonymous tip that there is a stolen car in your backyard under your deck, things are trickier. They can ask you to see your backyard, but you can say no. They can ask a neighbor if the neighbor will allow them to look from the neighbor’s property onto yours, but, if that’s unsuccessful, they’d better be able to impress a judge sufficiently to obtain a warrant.

However, what  happens with UAV’s? Now the law enforcement officer can be parked perfectly legally on the street while his “eyes” are hovering over your backyard.  Your property rights overhead are not established (unless you are getting a check every time Delta flies over your house–I’m not.)

Extensions: What about peaking in through your window with an aerial telephoto lens? What if it’s not law enforcement, but rather the Neighborhood Watch? What if it’s not even the Neighborhood Watch, but rather the crotchety retiree at the end of the block who has self-appointed himself neighborhood watchman because he’s bored to tears… and more than a little bitter?

Sovereign Immunity: Many governments have laws that prevent you from suing them. So what happens given a scenario suggested in the National Geographic article, the government’s UAV falls out of the sky and it’s rotor-blade slices open the jugular of your four-year old daughter as she is innocently playing in the sandbox in your back yard?

There are many who are concerned that this technology is not perfected. The military is having its share of problems, and they are spending billions on UAV’s. Imagine what will happen when local governments, corporations, and other cash-strapped entities begin flying more low-budget versions?

Personal No Fly Zones: Despite the tenuous legal situation regarding the “airspace” over one’s head. You know that, sooner or later, someone will try to enforce a no-fly zone over their property. So what happens when a person sees that Sheriff’s department UAV peeping through their window, and they blast it out of the sky with a 12-gauge shotgun?

Of course, there will be a whole new wave of issues that will arise as the autonomous UAV’s are perfected. By “autonomous” I mean ones that don’t need a remote pilot, but are more “fire-off and forget.”

Tags: policy, drones, UAV, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Rand Paul, National Geographic, Constitution, Law, Searches, Sovereign Immunity, federal aviation administration, john brennan

By in Politics, current events, Commentary on March 21, 2013.

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