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  • Jeff Marker


    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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The Drones You’re Looking For (and who are looking at you)

One of the most disturbing symptoms of the “War on Terror” era is that military and counterintelligence surveillance strategies are being used more and more in civilian contexts. See, terror isn’t a wartime enemy in the traditional sense; it’s a concept. And September 11, 2001 demonstrated that this concept existed within U.S. borders. It brought the war onto our land. War on Terror logic says that, this being the case, the government is justified in spying on its homeland in the same way it spies in combatant territories.

The Raven Mini UAV

The latest proof that the government and other agencies are doing exactly that? Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are being used in increasing numbers within U.S. borders. Many of them are used by defense agencies and border patrol. If you’d like to know how much and exactly why they’re being used, well, that’s a difficult question to answer. But we now know where they take off and land. Non-profit org Public Intelligence has published a map showing these locations and a breakdown of the type of crafts used at each location and which branch of the military uses each one.

But it turns out military and customs agencies aren’t the only entities using drones domestically. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently used a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to reveal that there are hundreds of non-military agencies using them, too. The Federal Aviation Administration has to provide a Certificate of Authorization (COA) to anyone who wants to fly a drone aircraft. According to the EFF, “In a meeting with the FAA [in April], the agency confirmed that there were about 300 active COAs and that the agency has issued about 700-750 authorizations since the program began in 2006.” The FAA provided a list of the entities to which these COAs have been issued, and they include universities, police departments, and municipalities of various sizes. The list only includes 60 or so organizations, which means that some entities hold numerous COAs. Check out the map and the EFF article here.

I understand the need to maintain national security, but we’ve reached the point at which the Department of Defense, police departments, and even universities are surveilling U.S. citizens using the same drones being used to hunt Al Qaeda. Isn’t it possible – just possible – we’ve gone a bit too far?

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