Ban on Arming Domestic Drones: Let’s Draw a Line in the Sand

Last week Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and the House of Representatives drew an important line in the sand. Holt offered an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill to bar any DHS funding for “the purchase, operation, or maintenance of armed unmanned aerial vehicles.” (The amendment was adopted and the bill has passed the House.) While moves to arm domestic drones are widely seen as beyond the pale and have not really been contemplated (with the exception of one sheriff in Texas who mused about mounting less-lethal weapons like rubber bullets on unmanned aircraft), we believe it’s crucial to get ahead of any possible trend.

We have unfortunately sometimes seen our overseas battlefields bleed across our own borders. As part of the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act and indefinite detention, for example, we already witnessed a willingness by Congress to move the battlefield in the war on terror into our own backyards. Importing weaponized drones to the domestic context would be the latest and arguably most extreme example of the militarization of our police. This trend, fueled in part by companies seeking domestic markets for weapons of war, has already led to many tragic abuses.

From their controversial deployment for targeted killings and other uses abroad, we know that armed drones are incredibly powerful and dangerous weapons. When domestic law enforcement officers can use force from a distance, it may become too easy for them to do so. When it becomes easier to do surveillance, surveillance is used more, and when it becomes easier to use force, force will be used more. We have seen this dynamic with “less lethal” weapons such as Tasers; since 2001, over 500 people in the United States have died after being tased, according to Amnesty International, and Tasers are often used in clearly unnecessary situations—for example, in retaliation against nonviolent people who have angered a police officer. Drones may also be more likely to result in harm to innocent bystanders.

As we have documented extensively, the most urgent threat that domestic drones pose at this time is as instruments of mass surveillance and other invasions of privacy. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has proposed legislation to address these concerns, and we agree that Fourth Amendment principles must certainly govern any domestic use of drones.

But we believe that support for the Holt Amendment sends a powerful message: armed drones have no place in America. We must not rush into embracing a dangerous new military technology.

Support the Holt Amendment here.

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CSC

Perhaps we could just ban the use of drones, armed or not.

Anonymous

A drone is a fine weapon and very effective for surveillance. If used properly (which it isn't) it could patrol a border and protect it. Obviously it doesn't work at the Pakistan border because it is consistently crossed by thousands of attackers.
We also have illegal border crossing from Mexico. The question is why we don't use the drones that don't work at Pakistan so that they can not work in the U.S.
Does anyone ask why we don't instead use LTA's (lighter than air) vehicles that cost a fraction, use no fuel, have an aloft life of 10 years and use solar for thrust and helium for lift?
Sorry, I'm an idiot! Why use something that cost comparatively nothing when you can spend millions with our war vendors who employ ex-government purchasers who call on their old buddies?
"Power corrupts and absolute power..." OK, we are not yet at absolute. Should we wait?

Anonymous

My main problem is that these drones can be easily hacked into as shown by the one downed in Iran. If that can be hacked into, then what happenes if a surveillence drone is hacked and used by anyone?

Anonymous

BIG 4th of July afternoon surprise for me. Only I want independence from unwarranted surveillance.

I live a little north of Seattle and I heard and then saw what looked like one of those small black police drones over the corner of my yard. I was out weeding and looked up to see what a tiny motor sound was coming from. When I looked up it was approaching from the South corner of my yard, then it hovered for a moment several yards above, then a couple of seconds after I looked at it, it turned 180 degrees and flew back in the direction it came from. It didn't look like any RC toy I've every seen and there were no people I could see around the general area to be controlling a toy. So I suppose the police/govt now have a photo of me in my own yard from above.

Why in the world would I need spying on? I was thinking about doing some topless sun bathing, for heavens sakes. I don't need any photos of that or of even my face circulating around for no good reason. I am not happy about this intrusion from a few yards above my yard. There is no reason for this type of intrusion on peaceful citizens. Since I'm not a threat and certainly not a major threat to anyone, I have to assume that I'm not the first to have witnessed this kind of thing and that many others have seen this also. I want to complain about this, but I don't know where to start, so here I am. I guess if I knew there was a serious threat of some kind in my neighborhood, that a drone could help protect citizens from I would not be so irate. But there is no notice by anyone of any serious threats.

I also assume there is no way to prove this event happened, but I'm telling my neighbors, friends and family about it, knowing that most of them will help me keep a look out for this type of invasion in the future. I will start keeping my camera more handy, too. If anyone has ANY advice or comments on this I'd love to hear from you.

Anonymous

The real issue is constitutional. The fourth amendment was intended for 'just such a time as this '

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