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    Op-Ed at USA Today: Domestic use of drones? Bad idea

    In an opinion column at USA Today, a liberal (Bob Beckel) and a conservative (Cal Thomas) discuss the issue of domestic use of aerial drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, “UAVs”) to conduct surveillance. In the last year, there has been increasing focus on this issue. Several months ago, Congress approved the FAA reauthorization bill, which includes a provision to integrate the use of aerial surveillance by drones in the United States by 2015. Read a previous post for more on the privacy and civil liberty questions, as well as deadlines for domestic use of drones. The columnists discuss the issue:

    Bob: President Obama and Congress recently signaled their willingness to allow wider use of drones — the pilotless aircraft used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia against Islamic terrorists — for domestic purposes. This is Big Brother at its worst. The ACLU and privacy groups have demanded that the Federal Aviation Administration address the “unique threat” posed by drones, as well they should.

    Cal: Hold onto your ACLU card, Bob. I’m with you and civil liberties organizations that are deeply worried about government seizing this kind of intrusive and invasive power for itself. […]

    Bob: I’m surprised how little we’ve heard from Congress, besides a letter of concern to the FAA from Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas.

    Cal: Maybe that’s because there’s a congressional “drone caucus,” which has 58 members. Many of them have received generous campaign contributions from defense contractors, including General Dynamics, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin (a major manufacturer of drones and missiles that can be attached to them) and Raytheon.

    Bob: Once again, money wins out over an important principle: the right to privacy. The news media tend to report actions by drones when they bomb terrorists, but the planes have several other significant capabilities. They can also see and capture pictures in the smallest detail from thousands of feet in the sky. They can detect cellphone conversations and other means of communications. […]

    Bob: The potential for abuse from government and law enforcement domestic surveillance by drones is terrifying. And if we’re worried about congested air space, just wait until the commercial industry gets into the act. Already drone manufacturers are envisioning use by private companies where the technology might be used for journalistic purposes or disaster relief. But do we really want this technology in the hands of private companies?

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