2013-02-14 / View From the Middle

Those Pilotless Spies In The Sky Could Be Spying On You!

View From The Middle
By Charles Rogers

The controversy about drones and their use as deadly weapons against civilians within the past few years is coming to a boiling point in political circles. Until recently, their use in this capacity has been more or less secretive, but, as a result of some leaks being disclosed, and with the current interrogation of candidates for various cabinet and security offices, more information is being released.

And it’s scary; not necessarily from the standpoint of its constitutionality, but from its outright invasion of privacy. The eventual effects of deadly drones will be discussed heavily in the coming weeks, but, meanwhile, what about the capabilities from a surveillance standpoint.

How would you like being spied upon by people you don’t know; by people who don’t know you, but want to take a surreptitious peek at your inner world?

Drones are a burgeoning problem, especially when we hear of those rocket-like, automatically piloted gizmos being responsible for bombing military targets in places like Pakistan and Yemen and all those dangerous places you read about in the papers. They’re not only used for bombing, they’re being used for looking too! Spying!

With the rapid advances in technology, it seems the science fiction world we once looked forward to is upon us — for good or bad. Currently, those drones that have been traversing the Middle East, etc. may be hovering somewhere near our very own homes. And it’s not at all the whimsical view we once had of futuristic airplanes zooming overhead being piloted by eager ground controllers running commercial errands for business moguls. That’s all fiction, we said; comic book stuff.

Not any more!

We know how effective these pilotless capsules can be if they’re used as bombs, but we haven’t really been exposed to how effective they are as camerabearers. Word has it drones were used extensively as quiet surveillance vehicles in flights over the residence of Osama bin Laden before he was killed. But what about their use as patrollers of our domestic skies — even our bedrooms and backyards? It’s not unfeasible to envision a hovering, helicopter-type eye in the sky peering into a Bayview Houses window off the coast of Jamaica Bay.

Don’t laugh. Civil libertarians are showing some concern — as are people in general — because of the at-one-time unheard of capability of these flying surveillance cameras to monitor our every move if they are allowed access to our skies unchecked. Currently, there are drones taking pictures of the Mexican-Arizona and Mexican-Texas borders looking for drug cartel members crossing the lines. They’re essentially invisible, but they are there, like it or not.

Supposedly, Congress is now taking a look at addressing the civil liberties that could be violated by such possible deceitful — let’s get our semantics correct — spying. And they’ve been talking to Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) authorities with the aim of coming up with rules to allow government and commercial uses of drones domestically, according to recently published reports, keeping in mind privacy and civil rights concerns.

Nowadays — with the arrival of technological advances surpassing those we had previously expected, we are able to identify muggers and robbers and would-be robbers and hit-and-run fugitives readily, thanks to strategically placed surveillance cameras on street corners, in housing projects and in the subways. Every time you turn around, you can see graphic pics of bad guys, caught in the act, right there on the evening news.

One does wonder, however, whether those cameras, once they’re attached to a pilotless drone, would be allowed to view our every move. At the very least, a warrant for such an invasion of privacy should be necessary.

Last month, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly admitted he wouldn’t mind utilizing remote controlled drones in monitoring demonstrations and in cases where police needed to view suspects in a variety of possible criminal cases. He said it would take coordination from various agencies, including federal aviation authorities, but eventually, from a security standpoint, it’s worth investigating.

It was in the ’40s that George Orwell’s “1984,” was published, presenting his science fiction view of what the future under a tyrannical establishment would bring. The crux of the totalitarian regime included government surveillance of every move of the population, with the phrase, “Big Brother is Watching You!” as a highlight.

When you leave your house today or tomorrow, look up in the sky and, as they say in often-quoted folklore, “Be afraid; be very afraid!”

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