There are two Capitol Hills in America and last week they seemed far apart on one issue.
The better known hill is in Washington, D.C., which has served as American media shorthand to describe the U.S. Senate and House ever since congressmen first met in sessions on the Hill in 1800.
The other Capitol Hill is exactly 2,323 miles to the northwest. A charming, densely populated residential district in Seattle, a city known for its liberal politics in the State also named for our first president. Their Capitol Hill is the city’s gay and counterculture district.
Last week, both Capitol Hills were caught in the Great Drone Debate.
On Wednesday, a Seattle City Council committee held a hearing to regulate unmanned police surveillance drones. The local Police Department already had two Draganflyer X6 Helicopter Tech drones bought with taxpayer money. A crowd of angry opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), voiced spirited opposition to these spy drones, concerned about privacy.
Council members were accused of being “… more dangerous than Nazis… than Communists… than the Gestapo… than then KGB.” One citizen said the council was creating “a police state.” [adcode]
By Sunday, the resulting city-wide uproar prompted Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, down in local polls, to ground the drones, which were subsequently returned to the sellers, along with the demand for a refund.
Also last week, Charlottesville, Va., imposed a two-year moratorium on the use of unmanned surveillance drones, the first U.S. city to do so.
News reports indicated that Seattle City Council, hearing citizens from across the political spectrum, were roused in common cause by what they saw as a threat to their personal privacy – police eyes in the sky peering into their vehicles, yards, homes, bedrooms – looking for what?
That unity is an example for us all.
The Slippery Slope
Now put aside for a moment the lethal aerial drones Obama uses to destroy annoying human beings he judges to be imminent threats to Americans (whatever that means in a point of time).
How long will it be before the president and his lapdog attorney general conclude that Citizen X or Citizen Y are engaged in some nefarious actions that must be stopped, such as tax evasion or others offenses, such as hoarding precious metals or hiding unreported cash offshore.
Why waste time with due process and antiquated conventional investigative means? A tech-savvy, drone-happy president can order aerial surveillance of suspect groups or persons using a drone equipped with DARPA’s surveillance video camera, ARGUS-IS (see demo), that at 15,000 feet over a small city can see and record movements as small as a human hand or the wagging of a dog’s tail. Arrest and confiscation of assets follow within minutes.
To target a suspect’s home or business, the president can order up a fleet of half-ounce Black Hornet Nano miniature surveillance helicopters, drones so small they can fit in the palm of your hand. Fitted with a tiny camera they relay still images and video to a remote video terminal manned by a police agent. The Nanos are so tiny a flock easily can hover outside your bedroom window like humming birds.
Surveillance drones already are used to patrol U.S. borders and by some U.S. police departments, but a year ago the U.S. Congress also got drone happy. Over little opposition or showing no concern about privacy, the politicians on the Hill ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to promote wider government, police and commercial drone use by September 30, 2015.
Congress ignored warnings about warrantless surveillance violations of the Fourth Amendment, police drones armed with tear gas and rubber bullets, which some departments want to use, and U.S. military drones in the U.S. sharing data with domestic law enforcement.
But the heart of the matter was summed up by Glenn Greenwald, a respected constitutional lawyer, who said about the leaked DOJ memo: “If you believe the president has the power to order U.S. citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it’s truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.”
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
That is exactly the point – and why we should all be worried – why we should all be actively protesting the spreading use of drones as a potential means to violate all our constitutional rights.
If an omnipotent president can claim a general right to kill Americans whom he defines as “terrorists,” who and what will be on his terrorist list in the future?
Remember the 2001 PATRIOT Act adopted sight-unseen by Congress? Its broad definition of terrorism has been used to justify radical government actions, most kept secret as the Act permits.
Arial drones, unseen at great heights, can track your every move. Combine that all-seeing eye with GPS trackers on your cars, RFID chips in your IDs, wiretapping, Internet surveillance, passport control and FATCA.
Friends, plain clothed officers and unmarked police cars are relics of the past.
Yes indeed, the Constitution of the Unites States guarantees that we shall not be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” that we have a right to trial and to be charged with a crime.
But if the president of the United States, as a Columbia Law School professor described President Obama’s actions a few days ago, “is acting as judge, jury and executioner,” how are we to defend ourselves?
We can at least start by demanding that Capitol Hill outlaw the use of surveillance drones against the 315,279,355 presumed innocent Americans now living in the United States.
Chairman, Freedom Alliance
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