Drones: Are .003% more jobs in NY worth your 4th Amendment Rights?

Without question the nation is in need of an economic boost. Even moreso is the fact that New York State is in need of an industry to provide new jobs. The Obama Stimulus and “green” jobs have failed to be the homeruns they were promised to become. Fracking remains bogged down in reviews and delays, with heaps of media fed bias and real concerns of the citizenry mixing to halt any progress that might be attained from that venture. Where is the answer? What are we as citizens willing to give up for any forward momentum?

Into this quandary comes the question of drones. Unmanned aerial systems are poised to be a reality in the skies over the nation, implemented by 2015 under guidelines at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the industry can create some $13 billion in revenues and roughly 70,000 jobs nationwide.

At this time, Rep. Richard Hanna (NY-22) is advocating bringing that industry to New York State. He is a member of the Unmanned Systems Caucus, along with Rep. Anne Marie Buerkle (NY-25) and Rep. Andy Harris (NY-25). They believe that some 2,000 jobs could be created – helping to fulfill the projections of 10,000 drones in US airspace in 10 years.

In a State that is the least business friendly in the nation, in Counties that exceed the official national unemployment rate (7.5%) by no less than 1.5%, in some Counties reaching 10% unemployment, every new job is a boon. Yet there is a question that is not being asked. Are we selling a portion of our individual freedoms for a few dollars and a couple of jobs?

On the pro side of unmanned aerial systems there are the benign uses: traffic control and offense punishment (running red lights, seeing potential traffic jams and diverting cars to alternate routes); fighting fires (bringing supplies to firefighters and tactics humans cannot enact); monitoring landfills and inspecting bridges or buildings for structural damage; install and potential repair of dangerous or hard to reach equipment; and so on.

But the negative side is just as dangerous to individual freedoms as are the benefits useful. It takes the concept to the British CCTV and magnifies it. As Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa states

“Just because the government may comply with the Constitution does not mean they should be able to constantly surveil, like Big Brother.”

Already Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) is seeking protections, and he is not alone. The consensus among many is that, as Ryan Calo (assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law) summarized, “There’s very little in American privacy law that would limit the use of drones for surveillance.”

It’s not just the use by Government that is at issue, but the private use as well. Corporations, drug dealers, and other criminals potential abuse of drones remains unforeseeable at this time. Applications of drones to determine if a home is occupied for a thief to break in, data mining by corporations, evading police raids, arson, peeping tom invasions of privacy, even murder are all on the table. None of which is in the realm of the FAA jurisdiction. None of which is addressed by current law.

Thus, we should wonder if the push to bring drone testing sites to New York is the boon that it is being made out to be. The 4th Amendment states, in part,

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

Domestic drone use can violate this – whether that violation is by the Government, law authorities (Federal, State and local), or your neighbor.

Perhaps, before New York State claims the title of a drone testing site and helps to proliferate unmanned aerial systems uses, the limits of this new tool for surveillance should be created. Perhaps a touch of the same desire for protections being demanded for the ground 2000 feet below us should be injected to this matter. Perhaps the .003% boost in employment can be delayed in the interest of the 4th Amendment.

At the very least, constituents should be involved with the discussion, so that their Representatives actually represent them.

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