DHS Built Custom Predator Drones to Identify Gun Owners, Tap PhonesMarch 5th, 2013
Over the past few years, the CIA has been using unmanned drones to pick apart the countryside in locations like Yemen and Pakistan, allegedly targeting militants. However, civilians are often hit in these strikes, either as collateral damage or due to bad intelligence. US citizens have already been killed by drones overseas without due process, even away from traditional war zones like Afghanistan.
As such, many Americans fear that drones will be used domestically in the same way that they’ve been used in places like Yemen. Weddings and funerals are common drone targets, as high-profile suspects tend to come out of hiding for events of such a nature. In signature strikes, anyone training with firearms in Pakistan could be cast as a militant by a drone pilot, even if the individual is not planning an attack against the United States. Meanwhile, CNET is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security recently ordered custom Predator drones that are designed to identify people carrying guns and to tap any electronic devices that might be in use nearby. Civil liberties activists are rightly up in arms. In fact, news is breaking right this minute that Attorney General Eric Holder just issued a legal opinion that the executive branch has the authority to kill Americans in domestic drone strikes.
The War on Terror Comes Home
Americans expect a degree of due process that Yemeni and Pakistani civilians do not get when it comes to the War on Terror. As such, many fear that drones will be used in a similar manner in the US. What would happen if the DEA targeted a major drug dealer by bombing his daughter’s wedding while he was there, killing others in the process? What if the government begins engaging in “signature strikes” against unknown targets based on behavioral data, such as whether or not they’re training with firearms? Will long rifle enthusiasts in the mountains of North Carolina begin being categorized as militants for training with weapons on rural property?
It’s important to note that these drones could be used lawfully. For example, laws could be passed banning the government from using such spy tools without a warrant. It would allow defense attorneys to throw out convictions based on unlawful drone use. Also, the detection of guns itself isn’t a bad feature if the only purpose for its use is the identification of threats (and possible civilian help) in active shooter situations.
Resisting the Temptation to Abuse Technology and Training
When federal law enforcement agents were given military-style training in the ’90s, the Waco and Ruby Ridge tragedies were the result. There is a serious temptation for law enforcement agencies to abuse new military tools and techniques, especially since doing so tends to improve their chances of survival in dangerous situations. However, law enforcement officers must use completely different rules of engagement in order to keep the peace and uphold the law, even when it makes their job more dangerous.
If these new drones were to be used to identify gun owners for confiscation purposes, the consequences would be horrific. If politicians were to wind up using drones to sweep throughout cities, tapping electronic devices, then the right to privacy would be all but gone. The time has come for legislation that clearly defines that drones like this can’t be used on US citizens without a warrant. When they’re flying over law abiding citizens’ property, the high definition zoom features and gun-monitoring capabilities need to be disabled, period. If bureaucrats intend to use them more wantonly than that, then it’s probably not a good idea that they have them in the first place. Eric Holder’s opinion on assassinations on US soil suggests that maybe they shouldn’t.