Privacy SOS

Combat drones coming to US airspace

The FAA has approved up to 30,000 drones to fly over US airspace, a number the agency estimates will be operational within the next ten years. We've also heard this week that the military is fast developing drones that aren't even controlled by humans — robot controlled robots. Privacy advocates and ordinary people alike are understandably worried by these developments.

But here's the news many of us have been waiting for, and dreading: the US military has announced that it is working with the FAA to gain approval for combat drones to fly above US airspace. That's right: the death-dealing birds famous for killing US citizen Anwar Awlaki without due process are coming home to roost.

As the wars abroad "wind down," the US military wants its drones to come home with it. Which means we can all look forward to many more stories describing the incoming militarization of the domestic terrain. Let's hope the weaponized drones don't end up in the hands of police, who for years have been the gleeful recipients of military hardware when the US military gets new toys. Indeed, 2011 was a banner year for mliitary gifts and sales to law enforcement: over $500 million worth of surplus military equipment was either given or sold to local police departments nationwide.

We are hearing from the military that they have too many drones on their hands, and so need to bring some home. Perhaps that means we need a moratorium on drone production? Instead, we are getting this: a Congressional caucus dedicated to expanding the drone industry's influence in Washington, and providing the contracts to guarantee the production of more and more drones for local, state and federal law enforcement for decades to come.

Given the latest word from the military on its surplus stock, maybe they ought to rethink their plans?

Read more about the Pentagon's plans for their old birds here.

UPDATE: The blog Republic Report has obtained an Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or drone industry lobbying group power point presentation describing its successes and plans for the future. Among the drone lobby's accomplishments was last week's FAA approval of domestic drone expansion, for which the industry group claims full credit. “…[T]he only changes made to the UAS section of the House FAA bill were made at the request of [the drone lobby]. Our suggestions were often taken word-for-word,” it wrote. The lobby also identified "Civil Liberties" concerns as a roadblock for its business plans. Count on that, drone lobby.

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