Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Eyes in the sky

Law enforcement officials in North Dakota are the first in the nation to admit to using unmanned Predator drones to conduct surveillance flights. The aircraft are able to fly two miles overhead for hours at a time, allowing police a better opportunity to spy on folks - even without a warrant - without being detected.

A helicopter flying overhead is easily detectable. The helicopter has to fly low enough for those on board to see the target of their curiosity. The sound of the engine is more than enough to alert folks that there are spying eyes in the sky. The same holds true for police airplanes - they are noisy and easy to spot.

The unmanned drones allow the police to monitor a location for hours at a time with no warning to those on the ground below.

What's the big deal, you might ask. If I'm not doing anything untoward in my backyard, why should I care if the cops are flying two miles overhead with cameras and sensors pointed toward me?

It has to do with the way in which "unreasonable" has been defined and redefined over the years. The Founding Fathers were pretty clear in what they meant in the Fourth Amendment - if the police didn't have a warrant, the search was unreasonable. But, over the years, the courts have rendered that term damn near meaningless. In the name of security and efficiency, what was once patently unreasonable has now become the norm.

There were no airplanes or helicopters, much less unmanned drones, back in the late eighteenth century. The authors of the Bill of Rights had no inkling of what the Wright Brothers would do at Kitty Hawk. They had no idea what exotic technology we would have at our fingertips in the early twenty-first century.

Any tool that allows the state to snoop on what you're doing behind closed doors (or a gate) is yet another way for the state to deprive you of your right to be left alone. It is another fundamental assault of the notion of limited government - of course you'll never hear Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich or any of the other wingnuts decry the use of the technology.

Less and less of what we do every day is private. The state has no business snooping on its citizens. If they think someone's up to something no good, convince and judge and get a warrant.

In the meantime... smile, you might just be on candid camera.


A Voice of Sanity said...

It might be possible to build a detector for these, something specifically tuned to the sound they put out or their electronic signal.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

I suppose we could ask the Iranians about building a drone detector.