Dump the drones

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What was once thought to take place only on battlefields and terrorist enclaves in lands far, far away, now will be coming to skies above American towns, cities and farms. Compliments of Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), unmanned drone aircraft soon will be competing with airlines and private planes for air space over America.

Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation reauthorizing the FAA. The legislation included important provisions to modernize the agency primarily responsible for the safety of air travel. Unfortunately — but as is the case with many bills passed by contemporary Congresses — it contains troubling provisions. Lurking within the FAA legislation is authority for law enforcement agencies as well as private entities to start launching drones to patrol American skies, “eyes in the sky” searching for all manner of activity by those of us on the ground.

The road for this Orwellian policy was paved earlier this week as the FAA published basic, interim regulations for law enforcement agencies to become drone-approved. Some law enforcement agencies already had received permission to use drones on a limited, trial basis, and many others have been chomping at the bit to launch their own eyes in the sky. According to Bloomberg, the FAA had by April received applications from more than five dozen agencies, police departments and public universities.

Law enforcement agencies argue this new form of spying on citizens will lead to “safer” communities. Even if such claims were accurate, such safety will come at a heavy cost to individual privacy.

During a recent interview on “Special Report with Bret Baier,” columnist Charles Krauthammer ripped into the federal government’s new drone-friendly policy. The well-known conservative writer noted that drones, like those that now will be roaming American skies, are essentially “instruments of war.” Krauthammer emphasized that the Founding Fathers “had a great aversion to any instruments of war, any use of the military inside the United States.”

Unfortunately, many other conservatives do not, or perhaps refuse to see what Krauthammer sees so clearly — that we have allowed our society to become heavily “militarized” at all levels since 9/11.

Groups advocating privacy rights, such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, have fought against the FAA’s push to allow unmanned drones, but thus far have been unsuccessful. Many congressional Republicans continue to give law enforcement whatever it wants, so long as such requests are presented as “homeland security” needs. For their part, many Democrats are afraid to vote against such measures, for fear of being labeled “soft on terrorism.”

Caught in the middle are the citizens of this country, who in times past would have balked at allowing the government to surveill our daily movements via robotic flying cameras. Sadly, many of those citizens now simply shrug resignedly and tacitly approve of such intrusions if they “make us safer.”

Benjamin Franklin admonished us many decades ago that, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty.” His prescient words are as apropos today — if not more so — as they were during our nation’s formative years. Clearly, few citizens — and even fewer leaders in Washington — understand or care about Franklin’s cautionary words.

We can only hope that this outrageous, privacy-invasive drone policy will cause people to finally stand up and say, “Enough is enough. No more.”

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.