Most of us would have heard about how the United States Military uses Drones in its various campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan among other countries. The use of unmanned drones or UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) is thought to reduce the collateral damage and prevent the deaths of innocent lives as well as those of the US military staff and soldiers. Whether one agrees with the former assertion or tends to believe that the use of Drones is simply to avoid US casualties, the bottom line remains that the use of Drones has revolutionized the way in which war is conducted. While there are widespread allegations of the Drones causing collateral damage as well, most commentators agree that their use in the Af-Pak war has brought spectacular results to the ongoing campaigns.
Now, let us consider for a moment what happens after the military campaigns are wound down and there is no longer a need for these drones or that there is a diminished role for them. And this is precisely what the Pentagon is planning as to how to put to good use the Drones once they are no longer in the service of warfare. The obvious answer to this question is that they would be used over the skies of the United States. Similar to the returning war veterans who are absorbed in the civilian workforce once their terms are over, the Drones are expected to be pressed into civilian service in fields ranging from homeland security to journalism. The implications as to what happens when these Drones come home are the subject of much media speculation and frenzy in the US at this time.
A little known aspect of the recent FAA bill signed by President Obama is the authorization of the use of Drones over the US skies. Though this aspect has escaped many commentators who failed to see the fine print, there are others who have pounced on this aspect of the FAA bill to both hail the passage of the bill as well as voice their concerns. Among those who voice their concerns are those who point to the potential for the ramping up of the American Security establishment to a degree that has not been seen before. Considering the fact that the prevalent system of National Security is already an Orwellian Big Brother state, one can only shudder to think as to the expected ramifications once the Drones are pressed into the service of Homeland Security.
Imagine walking through your neighborhood and finding that you are being tracked by a machine like apparition which sounds like a cross between a lawn mower and a chainsaw. Now consider what would happen if this apparition starts taking pictures of you and relays minute aspects of your movements to the powers that be of security. Already, US citizens have given up their personal freedoms and privacy over many aspects of their lives. The final nail in the coffin would be the total invasion of privacy with the Drones keeping check on your daily schedules and the places you visit. Indeed, Drones represent a powerful tool in the hands of the security establishment to keep a check on your movements and activities.
These concerns have led to some civil rights groups like the EFF or the Electronic Freedom Foundation to file a lawsuit challenging their legitimacy. The rationale offered by the government is that the war on terror has turned global in every sense and hence Americans need to be protected. This has not exactly found favor with a large section of the populace who fear this unwelcome intrusion into their lives. The scary aspect is that Drones unlike humans might fail in distinguishing between friendly targets and hostile ones. Though the raison d’être for their introduction is to introduce an element of precision, doubts linger as to whether machines can ever think like humans. Hence, even hardnosed security experts are a tad worried about the provisions of the new bill.
However, there are areas where the introduction of the Drones might not lead to unpleasant outcomes. One such field where they can help rather than hinder is journalism. To see how Drones can help journalists, think of the various big ticket events that you have attended which needed to be covered by journalists from all angles. Drones can help journalists get vantage shots of the crowd and the action and in this way capture much more than ordinary cameras and cameramen. If you have ever seen a blimp in action over stadia, you would know what we are talking about. Hence, while we might shudder as to the totalitarian aspects of the security state, there are some areas where the Drones might just be the much needed technology.
Another area in which Drones can help is the policing of law and order. Considering that Traffic violators and highway criminals often beat the latest technology employed by the police, introducing Drones to aid the law enforcers might just be what the cops want. In recent months, there have been numerous instances of police catching criminals with the use of Predator Drones. Before you jump to conclusions as to the difference between surveillance and law enforcement, the point needs to be made that there is a crucial difference between spying on ordinary citizens and the tracking of offenders. After all, who would argue against using technology to police effectively and reduce crime. Hence, this is one area apart from journalism where the Drones can be put to good use.
The point that Drones need a home after their service in the war zones has been made by many experts already. However, it is one thing to productively use technology and another thing to use it for nefarious activities. Hence, the balancing act between what is good for people overall and what is the best way to utilize productive technology is another. So, the bottom line of these concerns remains that an effective solution must be found. The solution would revolve around ensuring that expensive pieces of military hardware do not rust or go to seed and at the same time would not inconvenience the people.
Such a solution can be found with imagination and it goes without saying that using Drones for weather tracking, journalism and policing might be better than using them for everyday surveillance. And this is precisely what some moderates are arguing when they petition the government to reconsider its decision. The coming months are going to witness a heated battle between the defenders of privacy and the military hawks. Whereas the former believe that the Drones can be used for peaceful purposes without infringing on privacy, the concerns of the latter are mostly to do with how to utilize the Drones productively and for national security purposes. It is indeed hoped that a meeting ground can be found between these opposing camps. In all probability, the common ground that can be arrived at would involve a plough to sword shares transformation similar to what happens to military hardware in times of peace. In conclusion, using Drones for civilian activity is definitely on the table as an option and indeed it might be the optimal solution.