The Media’s Apathy Over Domestic Drones

RQ-1 Predator DroneThe way that a recent article on NBC News talks about drone aircraft over U.S. soil sure makes them sound like simply a financial liability, as though that’s the greatest of our problems. Technology columnist Nidhi Subbaraman notes that, according to statistical estimates, drones are up to “300 times more likely to crash than small civil aircrafts.” This is mostly due to the fact that they don’t have any humans aboard, which allows them to be “pushed harder than piloted planes.” Boy, if only we could improve their durability!

Never fear, though! Drones are “getting smarter” all the time because of the fantastic contributions of university researchers and DoD contractors. Just two months ago, we even learned about a great number of colleges that have now begun offering drone piloting programs for a fast-growing job market.

Starting in 2015, as well, “regulators will begin granting permits to a wider array of small drone operators in U.S. airspace.” Just a few years from now, we can look forward to about 10,000 commercial drones operating over a number of American cities.

When Salon writer Glenn Greenwald talked in December of 2011 about this very thing, he spoke rather differently than some of the more passive news media commentators. What will all this really bring over the decade? In order to think that over, I’ll leave you with Greenwald’s brilliant and sobering reflection:

For those dismissing concerns about drones by claiming (falsely) that they are the equivalent of police helicopters, won’t those same people dismiss concerns over weaponized drones by arguing: there’s no difference between allowing the police to Taser you or shoot you themselves and allowing them to do that by drone? This is always how creeping police state powers are entrenched: one step at a time. For those who are perfectly content with having  stealth, hovering drones over U.S. soil for sustained surveillance purposes — based on the reasoning that the police can already engage in surveillance so why not let them do it more efficiently? — what possible objections will there be to having the police use weaponized drones? After all, the police can already Taser, pepper spray and shoot people: why not let them do it with drones? …

… In the name of “homegrown Terrorism,” so many of the most recent War on Terror expansions have entailed application for domestic uses: from the Obama administration’s assault on Miranda rights to its claimed power to assassinate U.S. citizens to the latest detention bill about to pass Congress. The Surveillance State and the police powers ushered in by the War on Terror have been widely applied to domestic political dissent. The U.S. Government’s fixation on identifying and punishing dissidents is illustrated by the administration’s creepy new “hear-something, see-something” campaign against “domestic radicalization”: encouraging teachers and children to spot and then report those “making statements that indicate a rejection of American society.”

It takes little imagination to see the dangers of this militarization of domestic police powers; in fact, it takes extreme denseness and authoritarian trust to dismiss it as “paranoia” or “hysteria.”