Obama: Droning On Some More

President Obama’s first term foreign policy resumé, although quite remarkable, has stirred up controversy over the morality of the methods used to achieve such successful endeavors, such as the killing of Osama bin Laden. A common military tactic used abroad in aiding the United States to locate and capture terrorists is drones. Drones are either pre-programmed or controlled aircrafts that fly unmanned. The two main types of drones are armed drones and surveillance drones. Armed drones are usually equipped with missiles and surveillance mechanisms to track and attack suspicious persons. From what we know, which is very little thanks to the secrecy surrounding the drone program, they have been used primarily in an international capacity in the war on terror.

Surveillance drones have recently surfaced in legislation and have ruffled the feathers of organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2012, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act, which added approximately 64 billion dollars (fresh off the Treasury’s money tree) to the Federal Aviation Administration budget until 2015. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act cleared the runway for increased surveillance drone use and established regulations and guidelines for public service departments. And the FAA hasn’t wasted any time — they have issued approximately 1,428 domestic drone permits since 2007; however, not all these permits are active. We won’t see any mysterious black jets flying around this year, but this bill makes it pretty certain we will by the end of the Chuck Hagel filibuster. So, we’re looking at around 2015.

The biggest issue concerning drones is privacy. Drones essentially provide a live Google Earth feed to the government. An all-access pass, all the time. Walking out of your house, greeted by aircrafts clouding the sky, watching your every move doesn’t exactly scream, “America, land of the free.”

Supporters of domestic drones bring up two major arguments on why drones can be beneficial for national security. The first is that the drones would only be used for specific targets, carried out with a warrant.

With a tool as powerful as drones, it’s going to be hard for Big Brother to resist the temptation to use drones for reasons that the public may not deem justified. As we have seen with other acts, like the Patriot Act, it isn’t too difficult to come up with a justifiable reason to investigate someone the government perceives as a “threat.” By passing the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, the government is pushing the limits of their authority domestically with ethically questionable reasons. It starts with safety surveillance, but what comes next? We are on the fast track to the government having cameras in our showers, just in case we sing a song outlining our treacherous intentions.

The second argument in support of domestic surveillance drones supporters is that drones are able to survey areas of America that may not be accessible otherwise to aid in criminal capture.

That’s great, but the end does not justify the means. Especially since drones are not the only means accessible to the government — helicopters and jets still exist. That is unless helicopters and jets are not too “old-school” in a society with a preoccupation with the latest technology. But that doesn’t mean newer is better. Sure, helicopters may be more expensive to fly and require human control, but we need some kind of limitation and check on government power. If helicopters cost more, then the government is going to make sure the task they are sending the helicopters out for is worth the money. On a more personal note, it would be reassuring to know that our whole nation isn’t being safeguarded by robots. I would prefer that “I, Robot” remains a Sci-Fi novel instead of a horrifying reality.

Why do we need surveillance drones in the first place? Drones were originally used on our enemies overseas, but bringing the drones to home turf turns the tables; are we the enemies now?

A line must be drawn between ensuring safety and infringing on citizens’ privacy. Despite the premise that drones will have strict limitations and regulations, there is too much room for abuse. Privacy to a certain extent is guaranteed to all citizens and legislation that paves the way for government to spy on whoever they so choose should not be enacted.

When President Obama signed this into law, he also signed his second term legacy: drones. Let’s just say, better decisions have been made.


Aliza Asad is a first-year international studies major and can be reached at aasad@uci.edu