Drone Surveillance Is No Longer Just “Over There”

Beginning Election Day, Nov. 8, the US drone industry is holding a three-day convention at the former Rome Air Base and at the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse. It happens that Central New York is one of the nation’s main drone research hubs. Not coincidentally our region also hosts the 174th Attack wing of the NYS National Guard at Hancock AFB. The 174th pilots hunter/killer Reaper drone robots 24/7 overAfghanistan and who knows where else. Many innocent human beings are thereby maimed or killed.

Lockheed Martin will demonstrate various military drones at Rome. Nonetheless it appears that the convention’s focus will be on the development and marketing of the domestic drone. Domestic and military development are by no means separate spheres: They promote and cross-pollinate each other. Their engineers and operators can move from one sphere to the other.

Commercial drone traffic will soon come to conveniently mask any non-commercial domestic droneflights. The military drone isn’t just “over there”; increasingly it is coming home to roost. Dronesurveillance, developed to spy and do recon over there, now has begun to infest our skies.

More and more police departments and government agencies are deploying drones in the “homeland.” The Hancock Reaper drone now has license to fly throughout much of Upstate New York (including overSyracuse) — of course, only “for training.” Drones surveil US borders both north and south — so a significant minority of the US population living within 100 miles of the border are also under surveillance.

The Federal Aviation Administration has for years, under immense pressure from both military and industry, been struggling with the knotty problem of regulating domestic drone flight. While the FAA may (or may not) develop appropriate regs protecting our airspace and our privacy, how will it enforce those regs?

Who is going to tell the police, the military, the government and its intelligence agencies that they are breaking the law — especially when those agencies operate with little transparency; when they can invoke “national security” to obscure and defend their illicit acts; when all those agencies are congenital scofflaws?

Can we trust either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton, as President, to resist the temptation to deploy drones against certain individuals or groups or minorities they perceive as adversaries?