Spies in the sky signal new age of surveillance


A worrisome story from the Star Tribune:

LAKOTA, N.D. – The use of unmanned aerial drones, whose deadly accuracy helped revolutionize modern warfare high above the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, is now spreading intrigue and worry across the plains of North Dakota.

Amid 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans and miles from the closest town, a Predator drone led to the arrests of farmer Rodney Brossart and five members of his family last year after a dispute over a neighbor’s six lost cows on his property escalated into a 16-hour standoff with police.

It is one of the first reported cases in the nation where an unmanned drone was used to assist in the arrest of a U.S. citizen on his own property; and a controversial sign of how drones, in all shapes, sizes and missions, are beginning to hover over American skies.

Far from just the menacing aircraft bearing Hellfire Missiles and infrared cameras from combat, Unmanned Aerial Systems, the preferred term in the industry, now include products so small they fit in the palm of your hand and can look as innocent as remote-controlled hobby airplanes.

They can quickly scout rural areas for lost children, identify hot spots in forest fires before they get out of control, monitor field crops before they wither or allow paparazzi new ways to target celebrities. The government has predicted that as many as 30,000 drones will be flying over U.S. skies by the end of the decade.

But can drones fly in domestic airspace without crashing into an airplane? Can they be used in a way that doesn’t invade privacy? Who’s watching the drone operators — and how closely?

“All the pieces appear to be lining up for the eventual introduction of routine aerial surveillance in American life — a development that would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States,” the American Civil Liberties Union warned in a policy paper on drones last year titled, “Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance.”

To steal a line from Instapundit: They told me that if I voted for John McCain we’d see government using unmanned aerial drones to spy on ordinary Americans…and they were right!

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