Recently the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of 63 authorized sites at which the military, government agencies, towns, universities, and other entities can launch unmanned drones within American borders. These domestic launch sites are located in 20 states — including one for a small college in Steubenville, Ohio.
Our inability to police our borders is cited as justification for use of drone aircraft by the Border and Customs Patrol and the military; the advocates argue that we need the monitoring to enhance our security. Then, as those initial uses become rationalized and accepted, “drone creep” occurs, and more agencies and entities discover a purported need for the devices and the ability to monitor the population from the skies.
The reality is that we are an increasingly monitored society, whether it is through the use of unmanned drones or security cameras mounted on the corners of buildings or cameras attached to traffic lights that are supposed to catch scofflaws who run red lights. The monitoring is always justified on grounds of safety and security, as in the classic British poster touting the presence of closed-circuit TV cameras on British buses.
We are supposed to be trading our freedom and liberty for security — but that notion presupposes that the people who are doing the monitoring are truly motivated by security concerns and are capable of doing something about what they see. The recent performance of our government raises, I think, legitimate questions about the accuracy of both assumptions. Is the primary motivation for traffic light cameras security, or finding a cheap way to collect fines and add much-needed revenue to the coffers of hard-pressed local governments? How much of this monitoring is really to protect us from terrorists and invading criminals, and how much is to give a government that increasingly wants to control how we live our lives a platform to insure that we are complying with their edicts?