Masses of spy drones set to swarm U.S. skies

Sun, 2012/02/19
Mike Purdy
It was an ironic Valentine’s Day for President Barack Obama as he signed new legislation which allows for an increased prevalence of spy drones in domestic airspace. This is not quite the gift American citizens were looking for from their Commander in Chief, whose signature graced the FAA Reauthorization Act last Tuesday without hesitation.

FAA is an acronym for the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. airspace authority which celebrated the bill’s passing after over five years of political contention. The Reauthorization Act calls for $63.6 billion in federal funding for FAA programs from 2012-2015, $11 billion of which will go to the modernization of the nation’s air traffic control system. Aside from infrastructural improvements, the bill also calls for hundreds of millions of these dollars to be allocated toward governmental spy drone testing and implementation – directly over our heads.

By 2015, it is expected that full-scale testing and licensing of commercial drones will occur, and that by 2020, more than 30,000 of these unmanned spy planes will patrol U.S. skies. These spy drones vary in size – from that of a bird to a jet plane - and are controlled remotely to carry out precise, tactical, and malevolent missions. This means that thousands of the same Predator drones used by the CIA to spy on and eradicate enemy forces in the Middle East can now be used, under law, on our own people. If that is not sufficient reason to be concerned for individual freedoms and to question the intent of governmental operations, then I don’t know what is.

Hundreds of spy drone certificates (313 to be exact) were provided by the FAA to police and government agencies in 2011 alone. Although these planes do have the potential to serve some beneficial purposes, such as search-and-rescue and fire-fighting, one can’t help but think that, with the majority of the drones in government hands, they will more than likely be used for shadier pursuits.

The Pentagon has claim to over 7,000 aerial drones, and has asked for $5 billion for the 2012 spy-drone budget. This technology has become entirely crucial to U.S. military strategy in the seemingly perpetual “War on Terror”, helping drop targets like Osama Bin Laden and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, but has also led to an increased disconnect between the American people and the war itself. Operated like a video game with no Americans directly at risk, spy drones have effectively drawn us into greater amounts of foreign conflicts. Apart from war efforts, drones are currently being used on the domestic front for border patrol operations and counternarcotic surveillance.

The spy drone industry is expanding rapidly, and it won’t be long before American citizens gaze into the sky with certain apprehension as to whether or not the plane they see in the distance has a human pilot in the cockpit. As the issuing of spy drone certificates becomes increasingly expedited, federal and state agencies, including the massive Department of Homeland Security, will have immediate and unconstrained access to spy drone technology. Who knows what these spy drones will be capable of even within the next few years; it’s a formidable thought.

In this Land of the Free, one can only hope that U.S. authority does not imitate the “Big Brother” concept which so many dystopian literature readers can associate with. If the federal government does not come to its wits about the negative implications of spy drone use, more citizens will catch wind of this tainted legislation and become aware of its drastic infringement of personal security and privacy. Surely when the “Occupy” movement regains momentum this spring, the FAA Reauthorization Act will be under some major heat from protestors.