HOLMBERG: Drone technology outraces the Constitution

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–Technology is flying so fast, drones and now go almost anywhere and see almost anything. You can even have one of your own.

Most of us are familiar with the success of military drones like the Predators, which have also been flying over our borders.

More and more cities want to use these eyes in the sky to assist police in traffic control or dangerous situations, such as SWAT raids or barricade and hostage situations where Intel from above could save lives.

Police chiefs in Fairfax County and Washington DC are advocates for law enforcement drones. They’ve already been used in places like Florida and North Dakota.

There’s no question they’re cheaper than manned air support, and highly effective.

During his Tuesday radio address, Gov. Bob McDonnell voiced his support for Virginia law enforcement to be able use drones.

“I think it’s great we have . . . the technology to make law enforcement more productive, cuts down on manpower in the air, and also more safe. That’s why we use it on the battlefields,” the governor said. “Having it used for a variety of purposes in law enforcement, I think it is a good idea.”

The list of approved permits for public and private authorizations to fly drones domestically has been growing and includes police and emergency departments across the country, as well as universities, including Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University, although VCU’s permit has expired, according to research gathered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. [Click here to see the full list of drone locations that the FAA was forced to reveal.]

Also growing are special air worthiness certificates to manufacturers. (See the lists here)

Drones have been around for almost 100 years, when dirigibles captured military stills.

But the government’s used of unmanned aerial vehicles, as they’re called, to watch over citizens raises some interesting privacy and Fourth Amendment issues.

This is called mission creep: taking a military technology and using it to bend our Constitutional protection from not only unreasonable searches but military-ops against our own citizens.

Another example is the use of body scans now commonly used at airports.

“This is one of the most under-discussed but maybe important public policy issues of our time,” said Kent Willis with the ACLU of Virginia. “We are fast reaching the point where the government can essentially know where you are and what you’re doing any time you leave the house.”

“It may indeed be that drones are inexpensive and good ways to monitor traffic and other behavior,” continued Willis.
“But the question for us is one of freedom and liberty. We measure our freedom, in part, by our privacy. By the fact that the government doesn’t have a right to know what I’m doing and where I’m going for most of my life.”

So how is this different from the ever-present surveillance cameras at intersections, on buildings and utility poles?

“This is part of the whole public surveillance issue,” Willis said.

McDonnell also touched on this issue: “Obviously, at some point, certain operations may need to make sure we address civil liberty concerns along the way.”

The technology is buzzing like mad. Drones are becoming smaller with better cameras, and will include aerial watchdogs that can look like birds and be as small as butterflies.

Citizens can get into the game with high-tech toys like the highly maneuverable Parrot AR Drone for $260 to $300 dollars. Wireless video images are captured on iPads or iPhones and can shared on the social media almost instantly.

Military aircraft manufacturers are also going miniature. Drones in the future will be as small as baseballs, literally flying eyes.

It’s not hard to imagine what your average Joe could do with his so-called personal spy-craft, just as you can imagine government finding new reasons to watch us from above.

The drone issue is another where technology is racing along so fast, the Constitution is gasping to keep up.

That’s my take. Post yours here on WTVR.com
 

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