Congress this week has passed a bill that will give commercial, private, and military drone aircraft greater access to U.S. airspace that’s currently reserved only for manned planes.
By September 30, 2015, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like the kind used by the CIA to kill people in northwest Pakistan and the military uses for spying on targets in Africa, will go far beyond flying over solely military airspace and begin to flood domestic U.S. airspace. Currently, drones are mostly limited to war zones and the U.S.-Mexico border.
The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for commercial use of drones by 2015. The FAA has predicted that 30,000 drones could be in the nation’s skies by 2020. The bill is the result of an enormous lobbying effort from Washington insiders and the defense industry.
Allowing wider use of drone technology, especially by law enforcement and police agencies across the country, could open the flood gates for pervasive abuse of privacy, individual rights, and the rule of law. Just as the military and intelligence agencies have used drones to circumvent the law and shroud operations in secrecy, so too could it happen as a result of this bill.
“There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities,” said Steven Aftergood, of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.