The federal government is moving quickly to open the skies over America to drones – both for commercial and government purposes – and respected Washington Post and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer is forecasting “rifles aimed at the sky all across America.”
The comments from Krauthammer, who won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1987 after serving as a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale and then beginning his journalism career at The New Republic, were on “Special Report” with Bret Baier.
“I would predict, I’m not encouraging, but I predict the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country,” Krauthammer said.
The conversation arose as the federal government announced it is beginning to allow public safety agencies to fly unmanned aircraft – drones – with fewer and fewer restrictions.
According to yesterday’s report from Bloomberg, police, fire and other government agencies now are being allowed to fly drones weighing as much as 25 pounds without special approvals previously needed.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on its website that the move was an interim step until the agency finishes rules that will open the door for commercial operation of drones, as well as those uses for government purposes.
Congress has adopted the position of encouraging more drone flights, with the “goal of adapting technology used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The FAA said it had gotten requests from 61 police departments, agencies or universities to fly drones, including the Army, Air Force, Navy and others.
The move toward drones, which will offer virtually unlimited spy options to watch U.S. citizens, has raised all sorts of privacy concerns, about which Krauthammer expressed an unreserved horror.
“I’m going to go hard left on you here. I’m going to go ACLU. I don’t want regulations. I don’t want restrictions – I want a ban on this. Drones are instruments of war. The Founders had a great aversion to any instruments of war, the use of the military inside of the United States. They didn’t like standing armies, It has all kinds of statutes against using the Army in the country.
“A drone is a high-tech version of an old Army and a musket. It ought to be used in Somalia to hunt bad guys, but not in America. I don’t want to see it hovering over anybody’s home.”
He said there’s a difference from other technology applications.
“Yes, you can say we have satellites, we’ve got Google Street. And London has a camera on every street corner. But that is not an excuse to cave in on everything else and accept a society where you are always under – being watched by the government. This is not what we want. I would say ban it under all circumstances.
“And I would predict, I’m not encouraging, but I predict the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country.”
On the panel too was Mara Liasson, of National Public Radio.
“I don’t know if you can do that. Aren’t they awfully high up?”
No problem, Krauthammer suggested.
“You may have to use a lot of them. You may have to use a very high powered one. You may have to use a bazooka. I’m not encouraging. I’m simply making a prediction.”
Baier pointed out that a drone already has been used in a criminal investigation in America, with the case of a North Dakota man arrested for activities observed with a drone.
Krauthammer was allowing no compromises.
“I don’t think we want a society where if there are these objects hovering over, streaming real-time information about you, your family, your car, your location. We know it’s going to be abused. Yes, you say sure, we’re going to start restricting here, so we can save maybe $80,000. It’s not worth it.”
“Stop it here, stop it now,” he said.
He said otherwise, there would be “rifles aimed at the sky all across America.”
Also raising concerns is the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has told the Federal Aviation Administration there needs to be transparency and accountability in drone operations.
The organization has recommended the development of privacy protections before drones are used widely in the nation’s airspaces.
EPIC said it was part of a coalition of more than 100 organizations, experts and others who petitioned the FAA to conduct a formal rulemaking procedure on the privacy implications of domestic drone use.
Several members of Congress also have expressed to the FAA their concerns over the privacy implications of drone use. In a letter to the FAA, the congressmen said, “There is … potential for drone technology to enable invasive and pervasive surveillance without adequate privacy protections.”
EPIC noted that because of their design and technology, drone surveillance “often occurs without the knowledge of the individual being monitored.”
“These vehicles can gather detailed information on individuals,” the organization reports.
The federal government already has issued 78 certificates for commercial drone operations, along with 273 active government licenses.
Among the specifics: “The Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida used federal grant money to purchase a small drone vehicle. Reports dating back to 2008 explain that Miami was seeking to use a small drone … ‘to gather real time information in situations which may be too dangerous for officers.’ However, police have admitted that the drone can be used to look into houses,” EPIC reported.
EPIC documented that “the increased use of drones poses an ongoing threat to every person residing within the United States. Companies are developing ‘paparazzi drones’ in order to follow and photograph celebrities. Private detectives are starting to use drones to track their targets. Google, Inc., has deployed street-level drones in other countries to supplement the images of Street View. Criminals and others may use drones for purposes of stalking and harassment.”
The organization warned, “The consequences of increased government surveillance through the use of drones are even more troubling. The ability to link facial recognition capabilities on drone cameras to the FBI’s Next Generation Identification database or DHS’ IDENT database, two of the largest collections of biometric data in the world, increase the First Amendment risks for would-be political dissidents. In addition, the use of drones implicates significant Fourth Amendment interests and well established common law privacy rights.”
The units, EPIC documents, can peer “inside high-level windows, and through solid barriers, such as fences, trees, and even walls.”