Droning on about drones: my response to a reader comment

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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My post from earlier today drew several interesting comments.

One smart reader echoed Rich Lowry’s argument regarding drones:

Drones are instruments of war. Understandable there’s some nervousness about domestic use. But consider the historical precedent here:

Another bit of “detecting” war technology was radar. That technology was later wielded into microwave ovens and helped make air travel more accessible.

Digital photography was first invented for spy satellites, so the USAF didn’t have to drop film from orbit. Now it’s hard to buy film in stores.

Night vision was designed to give the Army and Marines an asymmetric advantage in darkened combat conditions, now you can buy it at Walmart.

And then there’s GPS. Originally designed to help guide aircraft, ships, and bombs towards target, people have no misgivings about rushing out to the store to buy the newest iPhone or Garmin.

Oh, and coup de grace? The internet. The first instance of networked computers came from the Pentagon’s think-tank, DARPA, to better integrate America’s nuclear forces to command & control units. Now everyone has a Facebook profile, Twitter account, Flickr page, and infinite other ways to share their private information with the world – all on the back of an invention designed to better network nuclear war.

So look, new technology doesn’t wipe out the Fourth Amendment. Its privacy protections apply regardless of the equipment used. So long as privacy limitations are honored, it’s reasonable to allow our police, farmers, teachers, et al to take advantage of innovations that make their jobs easier.

I wonder if -as even newer technology is introduced- this fixation on drones becomes just another blip on the radar. Forgive the pun.

An excellent comment — and I agree that there is nothing intrinsically wrong or troublesome about drones, inasmuch as they are viewed as an unmanned aircraft. Technology changes all the time, and there’s no need to be a Luddite.

But my post from earlier today explicitly argued that the problem isn’t with drones. A drone by itself does nothing to undermine the Fourth Amendment, but a police force using one inappropriately certainly does.

Citizens should have no problem with FedEx delivering mail by drone, but they aren’t under any obligation to welcome the use of drones by law enforcement — or the invasions of privacy and rights that this could ultimately (inevitably?) present.

Matt K. Lewis