Do You Hear a Droning Sound?
By: Michael R. Shannon
When Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell casually mentioned during a radio interview that he supported the use of “military–style” drones by law enforcement it sparked an immediate uproar, but not from the usual suspects.
One would assume the ACLU would be filing a lawsuit claiming a drone–born invasion of “privacy.” (Although after legalizing almost all the old perversions, what could liberals possibly be doing now that requires so much solitude?)
And instead of objections from Fairfax County police pilots who stood to be grounded and Fairfax Auxiliary Police officers who stand to lose one of the few perks of their unpaid job: helicopter ride–alongs — it was John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, who declared, “…a rapid adoption of drone technology before properly vetting the safety, privacy and civil-liberties issues involved would be a disaster for your administration and the people of Virginia.”
Shaun Kenney, former communications director for the Republican Party of Virginia, blogged, “Who the hell wants to give government the right to fly a drone over your home?” And Bearing Drift, a conservative political blog, complained, “Say it Ain’t So, Governor!”
Unfortunately for my fellow conservatives these complaints are 151 years too late. Air power for observation dates back to September 24, 1861 when Thaddeus Lowe went aloft for the Union near Arlington. George Armstrong Custer, who had his own problems with practitioners of unconventional warfare, floated serenely over the Peninsula later in the conflict.
Today police helicopters already fly over homes in Northern Virginia and the General Assembly has passed a law authorizing state police aircraft to cite drivers for speeding. Drones just replace existing technology with a less expensive alternative that does the same job with a smaller government footprint, a development that would normally appeal to conservatives.
Helicopters have proven to be both very useful and very expensive. Currently the estimated yearly budget for two Fairfax choppers is approximately $1 million, producing an average of 150 hours total flight time each month. The budget includes pilots, cross–trained police/EMS officers, ground technicians, mechanics and all the rest of the infrastructure. The use of drones, which Fairfax already has permission to do, would reduce some of these costs while increasing flight time.
Objections to drones frequently mention the “right of privacy,” which is a shaky Constitutional reed for conservatives to grasp. Privacy, as such, does not exist in the Constitution. It originated in Griswold Vs. Connecticut when Justice William O. Douglas discovered heretofore unknown “penumbras” and “emanations” leaking from the document that when run through a gas spectrometer were found to protect “privacy.” From this small step the court later leaped to a right to abortion.
Conservatives can’t be a little bit private any more than they can be a little bit pregnant. Relying on this flawed Constitutional reasoning validates the liberal intellectual framework that protects the “right to abortion.”
Limitations on drone usage don’t depend on an invented right from a liberal court, but are already found in the plain language of the 4th Amendment which says ““The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” To be Constitutional and admissible in court, drone usage would have to conform to existing case law surrounding the 4th Amendment.
Banning drones because of “privacy” concerns would be small comfort when PeePaw wanders off into the woods and civil libertarians fail to volunteer to join the search party.
Drones will prove invaluable during pursuits, allowing police to maintain aerial contact with suspects without filling the streets with a conga line of speeding cruisers careening around corners and risking collisions with innocent bystanders.
The use of drones by local police also conforms to the conservative principle of subsidarity, which posits that power or governmental functions should be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority, that is consequently closest to the people. Anyone who has ever tried to complain about TSA damaging luggage will instantly realize the difference between local police supervising drone usage and Department of Homeland Security’s Janet Incompetano.
Personally, I don’t think we should allow the fact that certain Middle Eastern religious fanatics have had unpleasant experiences with drone technology to color our impression of how the domestic use of UAVs would affect us in Northern Virginia.
The chance that a resident of Prince William County or Fairfax County would have a rendezvous with a drone–launched Hellfire missile is nonexistent. Adding a Hellfire line item to the budget would put a big dent in Fairfax’s pet “affordable housing” program and here in PWC Police Chief Charlie Deane would have to choose between air interdiction and outreach to illegal aliens.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.