Sunday, June 3, 2012

Civil rights advocates trying to 'shoot down' drones

Governor warned: U.S. is 'not a battlefield, and citizens are not insurgents'

dronesAmerica is not a battlefield, and its citizens are not “insurgents in need of vanquishing,” argues a civil rights attorney who is urging the governor of Virginia to move forward carefully in the state’s use of the remote-controlled aerial vehicles.

“A rapid adoption of drone technology before properly vetting the safety, privacy and civil liberties issues involved would be a disaster,” said John W. Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, in a letter to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell today.

Whitehead was reacting to a radio interview in which McDonnell said that the use of drones in American skies was “great” and “the right thing to do.”

The governor said the abilities that made drones effective on a battlefield also would make them effective in America.

“What the Commonwealth needs are government leaders who understand that their primary duty is protecting the constitutional rights of its citizens,” Whitehead said in his letter. “These drones – aerial, robotic threats to privacy and security – are being unleashed on the American populace before any real protocols to protect our privacy rights have been put in place.”

WND recently reported the federal government is moving quickly to open the skies over America to drones for commercial and government purposes. Veteran  Washington Post and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer is forecasting “rifles aimed at the sky all across America.”

The comments from Krauthammer, who won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1987 after serving as a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale and then beginning his journalism career at The New Republic, were on the Fox News Channel’s “Special Report” with Bret Baier.

“I would predict, I’m not encouraging, but I predict the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country,” Krauthammer said.

The conversation arose as the federal government announced it is beginning to allow public safety agencies to fly unmanned aircraft – drones – with fewer and fewer restrictions.

According to a report from Bloomberg, police, fire and other government agencies now are being allowed to fly drones weighing as much as 25 pounds without special approvals previously needed.

The Federal Aviation Administration said on its website that the move was an interim step until the agency finishes rules that will open the door for commercial and government operation of drones.

Congress has adopted the position of encouraging more drone flights, with the “goal of adapting technology used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

But Whitehead’s letter said the beneficial uses for drones easily could be overshadowed by the possibility that “law enforcement agencies will find a whole host of clever and innovative ways to use drones to invade our daily lives and wreak havoc on our freedoms, not the least of which will be traffic enforcement and crowd control.”

He said while drones can help spot forest fires, aid in searches and other specific chores, “without robust safeguards for the privacy and security of citizens … Americans will find themselves operating under a new paradigm marked by round-the-clock surveillance and with little hope of real privacy.”

He said not only can drones spy on people, many of them now are armed.

“Vanguard Defense Industries has confirmed that its Shadowhawk drone, which is already being sold to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, will be outfitted with lethal weapons, including a grenade launcher or a shotgun, and weapons of compliance, such as tear gas and rubber buckshot.

“Such aerial police weapons send a clear and chilling message to those attempting to exercise their First Amendment rights by taking to the streets and protesting government policies – the message: stay home or you will be punished.”

Further are the dangers from malfunctions, breakdowns and other mistakes, including a takeover by a terrorist hacker.

“A rush to adopt this technology before it is properly vetted for safety and privacy concerns will invite the wrath of many Virginians,” he said.

Also raising concerns is the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has told the FAA there needs to be transparency and accountability in drone operations.

The organization has recommended the development of privacy protections before drones are used widely in the nation’s air spaces.

EPIC said it was part of a coalition of more than 100 organizations, experts and others who petitioned the FAA to conduct a formal rule-making procedure on the privacy implications of domestic drone use.

Several members of Congress also have expressed to the FAA their concerns about the privacy implications of drone use. In a letter to the FAA, the congressmen said, “There is … potential for drone technology to enable invasive and pervasive surveillance without adequate privacy protections.”

EPIC noted that because of the design and technology, drone surveillance “often occurs without the knowledge of the individual being monitored.”

“These vehicles can gather detailed information on individuals,” the organization said.

The federal government already has issued 78 certificates for commercial drone operations, along with 273 active government licenses.

Among the specifics, EPIC reported: “The Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida used federal grant money to purchase a small drone vehicle. Reports dating back to 2008 explain that Miami was seeking to use a small drone … ‘to gather real time information in situations which may be too dangerous for officers.’

However, police have admitted that the drone can be used to look into houses.”

EPIC said that “the increased use of drones poses an ongoing threat to every person residing within the United States.”

“Companies are developing ‘paparazzi drones’ in order to follow and photograph celebrities,” the group said. “Private detectives are starting to use drones to track their targets. Google, Inc., has deployed street-level drones in other countries to supplement the images of Street View. Criminals and others may use drones for purposes of stalking and harassment.”

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