“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1755, “deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We don’t deserve either, he felt, because we will have neither.
Americans today seem to be doing just that, giving up our cherished rights as free men and women, with little resistance, in order to live in a promised state of security, protected from domestic criminals and international terrorists. But are we really safe? And are we still free?
Soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal government quickly moved to secure the homeland against further terrorist incidents. It established a Department of Homeland Security, took over airport safety with the TSA, and passed a sweeping new internal security law, the Patriot Act, which received just one dissenting vote in the US Senate.
The Left howled in protest throughout George W. Bush’s presidency for his over-reaching national security policies, yet under Obama the usurpation of power has become far worse, with nary a peep from liberal Democrats or the now defunct anti-war movement.
In a new, disturbing move by the Obama Administration, the FAA is now working to approve the use of aerial surveillance drones in the domestic skies of the United States. Like the Police Patrol helicopters “snooping into people’s windows” in George Orwell’s novel 1984, these aircraft are similar to the unmanned drones used in the War on Terror. By 2020 it is believed that 30,000 of these surveillance drones will be looking down on the heartland, although the FAA, in characteristic fashion, denies it.
To assuage public anxiety, which is growing, government officials have been quick to reassure us that they only have the people’s best interests in mind. The massive drone program will aid local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the apprehension of fleeing criminals and escaped convicts, catching speeders, and to locate missing and kidnapped persons.
Such uses for drone technology could be a great benefit to society but what other purposes could drones be used for? Gathering data on the American public.
According to an Air Force drone instruction report, “Incidentally acquired information reasonably believed to indicate a violation of federal law shall be provided to appropriate federal law enforcement officials.”
This statement means that if a drone, operating in one of the government’s benevolent acts, flies over your property and the drone operator eyes something that might be illegal, or anything that might seem suspicious, the drone will take pictures, which will then be sent to the appropriate agency, like, say, the EPA, DEA, ATF, or other interested parties. Federal agents will then pay you a visit. The surveillance action will be conducted without a warrant, in blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment.
As always, there are those who doubt this will ever happen. But it already is. The Environmental Protection Agency recently launched its own campaign of spy planes to watch cattle ranchers in Nebraska and Iowa, seeking violations of the Clean Water Act. According to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, such flights are entirely legal. What other answer could we expect?
Some members of Congress, however, have begun a move to stop the illegal use of surveillance drones. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Congressman Austin Scott of Georgia have introduced legislation, the Preserving Freedom From Unwarranted Surveillance Act, which will require law enforcement to obtain a legal warrant from a judge before conducting any spying missions on the American people. Any evidence gained from drones without a warrant would be illegal.
The passage of the Paul-Scott bill is essential to safeguard our freedom, for I fear much worse could emerge from the domestic use of drones. As Thomas Jefferson warned us, the “natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and the government to gain ground.”
Predator drones were first used by the US military in the War on Terror for reconnaissance patrols and, later on, to take out enemy fighters, dangerous missions that did not put any American pilots in danger. Most of the early assignments involved killing top terror suspects hiding deep in the Afghanistan countryside.
The drone campaign then shifted to encompasses a “kill list” throughout the Middle East that presently includes American citizens overseas, those persons whom the government has deemed enemy combatants. The missile-firing drones will take those suspects out if they are spotted, even though as citizens of the United States, they are entitled to due process of law.
Now the drone program has moved into the domestic skies, to spy on and gather information on we the people. Is it too much of a stretch to believe that these drones might one day carry armaments to take out home-grown “terrorists” on American soil? Not for me it isn’t.
We must ask ourselves, will we continue to be an “empire of liberty” or will we continue our fall toward a police state? It is for us to decide.
This column appeared in the Laurel Leader Call (Laurel, MS) on Tuesday, July 31, 2012.