Intelligence gathered by unmanned military drones significantly aided the mission of Navy Seal Team 6 when they stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound in Afghanistan last year. And military drones are now a critical tool for helping keep our troops as safe as possible in hostile regions of the world. The technology of unmanned drones developed by our military also has many civilian uses, but civilians are rapidly questioning our government’s right to have an “eye in the sky.”
The revelation by the Environmental Protection Agency last month that aerial surveillance flights (using traditional aircraft) have been used “for nearly a decade to verify compliance with environmental laws” stirred a controversy in cattle country that is not likely to subside anytime soon. That’s because EPA also acknowledged surveillance flights in Iowa in 2010 and Nebraska in 2011 to check on concentrated livestock feeding operations (CAFO). Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns questioned EPA’s legal authority for using such aerial surveillance, which brought a response from the EPA that claimed, “Courts, including the Supreme Court, have found similar types of flights to be legal.”
While the EPA feedlot surveillance program was conducted using traditional aircraft, here’s predicting that the legal wrangling over aerial surveillance is far from over. Especially since the technology of unmanned drones appears likely to soon produce spy crafts much smaller than the proverbial breadbox.
So, are drones flown over the U.S. an invasion of citizen privacy, or an effective and economical method to enforce our laws? Let the debate begin.
The first public survey about drone use (in what is sure to be one of many) was released last month by Monmouth University in New Jersey. And – maybe predictably – Americans seem to favor using the technology to catch other people doing wrong, but not themselves. For instance, 64 percent of the folks surveyed by Monmouth said it would be OK to use drones to catch illegal aliens, but fewer than 25 percent said it would be alright to use drones to issue speeding tickets.
Just how polarizing an issue is this? Consider that just 80 percent of the people surveyed said using drones for rescue missions would be acceptable. In other words, even if people’s lives could be saved with the technology, 20 percent of Americans oppose the use of drones for rescue. And, just 67 percent favor using drones to locate criminals.