Swanson (1) avers that the uses of drones have both positive and negative uses for the use of drones in both commercial as well as law enforcement applications. However, Swanson is stating that with the absence of any actions by authorities, on the state and the Federal levels, to enact any policies or legislation to regulate any of the flights conducted by these “unmanned aerial vehicles” in America’s skies as these operators see fit. Federal authorities allowed more than 30,000 drone flights; police departments, for their part, have used drones to a low altitude of 400 feet, and many of these police departments have already 300 in operation at present.
These assertions that these drones can be used either for positive or negative uses has spawned either restrictions or calls for the prohibition of the operations of these machines. Among the positive uses that these machines can be put to beneficial uses include using these as surveillance devices in forest fires, initial responders in rural areas, and by real estate professionals and tourism agencies. There have been a scarce number of jurisdictions that have disclosed the applications that these localities intend to use the machines. However, there are legislatures such as Virginia’s that are deliberating on a number of legislative proposals on the use of these machines within their states (Swanson 1).
Among the concerns that Swanson is apprehensive on the use of drones, even with no law enforcement and security concerns, include the flight capacity of these aerial vehicles crashing into buildings, planes and into edifices; these vehicles can suddenly drop out of the sky. Advertising drones might accidentally fall and ram walls and houses, and be used to eavesdrop on individuals. The power of these aerial vehicles to be able to conduct surveillance activities on people can trigger complaints and even legal actions of Fourth Amendment violations against the police and other law enforcement agencies.
The police and other law enforcement agencies can deploy these vehicles that are armed with a vast arsenal of weaponry to “snuff” any possible threat the agency believes needs to be immediately addressed. These can be outfitted with rubber bullets, canisters of tear gas, and other weaponry. In addition, the program of the drones can be changed from purely monitoring and surveillance activities to a more proactive approach, in that the Central Intelligence Agency as well as the United States military can outfit the vehicle with more potent firepower that according to Swanson, has allegedly caused the death of three Americans as well as thousands of men, women and children (1).
Drones are regarded as delivery platforms for conventional armaments. The projectiles and bombs that are used by these drones in the combat field are the same missiles and bombs used in the conduct of warfare in foreign battlefields. The use of the drones themselves is not seen as illegal, brutal or even unethical. Nevertheless, there are limits that are placed in the use of certain types of weapons that have no or little military goals, or conducting such actions with an inordinate number of non combatant casualties. These are the same reasons that weapons such as landmines and other so-called “cluster weapons” have been banned from use in combat zones (O’Connell 1).
Bica (1), on the other hand, incorporates the use of these drones in the “Global War on Terror”. Here, Bica shows that the use of drones has been attributed as a major factor in a growing number of violations done by the United States in the conflict against terrorism. Among the infringements include strategies of crafting so-called “kill lists”, infringements on the sovereignty of nations, and the photographs of children and women killed as a result of the drone strikes, have led many to call for the permanent grounding of these machines for being “immoral” and illicit forms of weapons.
Initially, the drones were developed as a reconnaissance platform with a highly restricted weapons capacity, such as the MQ-1B “Predator”. However, as time passed, the drones quickly morphed into a more lethal option for the military in the battlefield. These more “docile” drones have turned into deadlier weapons options, such as the MQ-9 “Reaper”. However, Bica notes that the “Reaper” is not a weapon by itself, but a delivery mode for at least 16 Hellfire missiles or a combination of weapons and ordnances. This can be likened to a submarine or naval ships that carry Cruise/Tomahawk missiles.
In dissecting the position to ban the use of drones in any application, Bica admits to being an idealist to a degree that can respect the tenets of pacifism, and a realist who believes in the morality and the justness of war. In war, according to Bica, the harshness of war entails that one party must be done and conducted in a acerbic and brutal manner, in line with Just War Theory. In line with the operation of the JWT, the use of weaponry that can annihilate property and cause great numbers of casualties in terms of enemy combatants can be considered as a moral end in the conduct of war (1).
In the context of using drones outside of the confines of the battlefield and within the parameters of criminal justice system approach, the legal sanction of the use of the drones in accomplishing criminal justice rather than military objectives is muddied by two conflicting methodologies of peace and order; one, the canons of military action and two, the canons of criminal justice.
On one side of the “debate”, the government of President Barack Obama has warmed up to the methodology of the criminal justice application, slowly distancing itself from the language of the “Global War on Terror” and moving to litigate the cases of the 9/11 colluders in civilian rather than in military courts. However, by conducting and enacting policies that center on the discovery and neutralization of the perceived “enemies of the state”, the President has also accepted the basic core of the military canon, which sidesteps a fundamental process in the criminal justice system, which is the right of due process.
On the ethicality of the use of drones in criminal justice objectives, the same blurred lines that somewhat separates the lines of the military and criminal justice methodologies are again present in the debate of the ethics of the use of drones. In the criminal justice approach, the method has the objective of predicting threats and uses force in response to the attacks launched by an enemy. The approach monitors and responds within the parameters of the general model of defense and conflict.
The “War against Terror” approach, for its part, does not possess an end, in that there is a predictable timetable for the consummation of activities. In addition, the range of the “theater of war” in the war is spread that it does not have a single location. In this light, it can be said that compared to the neutralization of a criminal gang or the defeat of an enemy within the parameters of a conventional war, the action of the United States and its allies against groups such as the Al-Qaeda is more along the boundaries of fighting an organized criminal group that has a wide network of activity. The ongoing war against terror will not result in the establishment of a place of asylum, or even the conclusion of a cessation of hostilities agreement.
In a fight where the antagonist has a wide network and resources, the other must establish a means that can ensure flexibility and range, above the common borders of the conduct of war. In this light, it can be said that the strongest position that drone use can proffer is that it has a high efficiency rate. The use of drones is attributed with small, focused targeting, small collateral amounts, and the doing away with the need to place US combat troops on full deployment, and tragically, losing their lives in a foreign theater of war.
However, even with glowing benefits, there are limits that attend these benefits. In the work of Rosenthal, targeting miscues, unnecessary loss of life among innocent bystanders and that the use of drones will be used as foreign policy issues against the United States.
It must be noted that the drone policy of the United States is administered by the Central Intelligence Agency. This organization is largely outside of the coverage of the ambits of international law. The accountability that the CIA is placed under is with the United States Congress. However, Rosenthal avers that Congress may be a misfit in terms of establishing, regulating and implementing regulations for the operation of these unmanned aerial vehicles. As the regulatory mechanism changes, there must be a critical action that will ensure that the rights of the citizens of the United States are protected by the incorporation of the appropriate checks and balances designed to balance the drone program of the CIA (1).
Front line law enforcement agencies have admitted using drones in their law enforcement activities. Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, admitted that the agency uses drones within the territorial United States, but only for surveillance purposes and in specific complicated purposes.
In addition, Mueller stated that the use of drones by the FBI can be considered as extremely minimal and infrequent. However, Mueller did not disclose in his statements to the Senate the exact number of drones that the agency employed and the frequency that the agency engaged the services of these vehicles in fulfilling their mandate.
Sources from the law enforcement establishment have disclosed that the FBI has used these aerial vehicles at least a dozen times but stopped short to give the date that the agency began using these machines. The source averred that the drones were particularly effective in situations in hostage and barricade instances as these operate quieter and are less prone to be seen compared to traditional aircraft commonly used in these situations, such as helicopters.
FBI officials have stated that the use of drones in a number of its operations have allowed field personnel to discover critical data that would not be possible without exposing the personnel to serious risk. In addition, the FBI has stated that the drones are only utilized in surveillance activities on fixed targets and that the agency must first acquire permission from the Federal Aviation Administration for flights “within a very confined fly zone”.
The declaration of Mueller comes in the wake of the struggle of the Obama administration with political as well as other fallouts owing to the public reporting of top level reconnaissance programs. These debates have triggered serious debates over the scope of national security needs against the rights of privacy as enshrined in the Constitution. A number of national security as well as law enforcement figures have come out to defend the activities of the National Security Agency in conducting monitoring and surveillance of telephone calls as well as electronic messages of Americans and its effectiveness in countering the threat of terrorism.
Though President Obama himself has assured America that the government does not read their mail messages or listen to their phone calls, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley questioned Mueller on whether the FBI has regulations and policies regarding the use of drones and how much of their operations negatively affect the privacy of Americans. Mueller answered that the impact of the use of drones in the United States is negligible, however, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein expressed serious concern on the use of drones in the United States.
In the opinion of Feinstein, the most significant threat of drones being operated in the United States is the drone itself and the operation of the drone. Feinstein avers that with the prevailing lack of guidelines that govern the operations of these drones aggravate the situation regarding the operation of the drones in the United States. For his part, Senator Grassley fired his questions at Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder was questioned regarding the information sent to the office of the senator on the use of drones by Federal law enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration, but nothing on the FBI (Cratty 1).
In conclusion, the debate centers on the use of battlefield technology to combat crime. Night vision goggles, assault rifles, steel helmets, bullet proof vests, and a host of other technological advancements were first tested on the battlefield, and have now become tools in the eradication of crime in the civilian society. There is a fear of abuse that is attributed to the use of drones, given their firepower and propensity to be used in other applications. However, the use of the drone is not the threat; it is those that operate it. Here, it is stated that the threat of the drones in the United States is not the machine, but to those that will use it for activities other than what it is set to do.
Bica, Camillo Mac. “Banning drones: misdirected activism”. <http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/10/05/banning-drones-misdirected-activism/>
Cratty, Carol. “FBI uses drones for surveillance in U.S”. <http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/19/politics/fbi-drones/>
O’Connell, Mary Ellen. “Combat Drones: Losing the fight against terrorism”. <http://peacepolicy.nd.edu/2009/10/01/combat-drones/>
Rosenthal, Joel H. “Drones: legal, ethical and, wise?” <http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/ethics_online/0078.html>
Swanson, David. “Deployment of drones across the US will turn American soil into war front”. <http://www.presstv.com/detail/2013/01/26/285660/drone-deployment-turns-us-into-battlefield/>