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EDITORIAL: It’s a bird! It’s a drone!
Spies in the sky must answer to a higher authority
Humphrey Bogart’s classic line in the movie “Casablanca” could take on a sinister new meaning in the surveillance society: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Last year, New Orleans toyed with the idea of using drones to watch over the Super Bowl, but the smarter people in the Big Easy dropped the idea.
That hasn’t prevented other agencies from using drones to spy on Americans on their own property without court approval. The first person has been jailed for resisting warrantless airborne intrusion.
In North Dakota, where cattle outnumber people and private property still means private, the cops suspected Rodney Broussart of rustling a neighbor’s cows in 2011.
When the farmer threatened police who wanted to search his 3,600-acre ranch, officers sent a drone aloft to take a look from the air, and he was arrested for theft and terrorizing. On Jan. 14, he was found not guilty of stealing the cows but was convicted for ornery behavior and sentenced to three years in prison. His attorneys attempted but failed to have the aerial photographs suppressed because they were acquired without a warrant.
It’s not uncommon for Harry Homeowner to return from work to find the cable company having dug up his yard without even a courtesy call. Before he reaches his front door, every telephone call he has made, every email he has sent, and every bill he has paid that day is safely recorded in the federal electronic archives.
The feds are capable of watching him even behind his closed doors by peeping through the webcam of his laptop. Privacy has never been so endangered. All the more reason to contest control of the eyes in the skies.
Several states are reining in aerial nosiness. Idaho, Florida and Montana have prohibited the use of drones without a warrant, and Virginia has declared a two-year moratorium on law enforcement drones.
In all, nine states have enacted limits on fly-by spies, and 40 have legislation pending, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
President Obama tiptoed around the drone issue in his State of the Union address last week, promising to reform the nation’s surveillance programs in the war on terrorism abroad, but making no such commitment to Americans.
With lenses powerful enough to identify a man from 20,000 feet, a homeowner’s property line no longer protects his privacy. The same Fourth Amendment that requires a finding of probable cause for up-close searches on the ground should require probable cause for long-distance scrutiny from the sky.
Drones have their place in this high-tech world. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos envisions using small drones to deliver books and DVDs to his millions of customers.
The Midwest brewer of Lakemaid Beer is promoting his dream of a hefty airlifter delivering beer by the case to thirsty crowds. That’s the drone Americans could cheer at a distant Super Bowl, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of a wide receiver or a deep punt from the end zone.
About the Author
- EDITORIAL: Downsize bloated National Park Service
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