Krauthammer: Just say no to letting the police use drones

posted at 9:17 pm on May 15, 2012 by Allahpundit

From last night’s “Special Report.” We’re not talking about armed drones here, of course, just eye-in-the-sky surveillance, but CK says no way regardless. I’m sympathetic to his libertarian impulse but I think his reaction’s being driven by the device’s military application, not its intended police use. The public knows it as an instrument of death so naturally we recoil at the thought of it hovering over American cities. If we’re going to ban it, though, let’s at least ban it for privacy concerns over what it’ll actually be used for, not because it makes us feel icky to think that similar machines are being used in a different capacity against terrorists. Otherwise it’s not unlike saying that the police shouldn’t have helicopters because, hey, the U.S. Army does too and theirs have built-in machine guns.

As for the privacy concerns, Andy McCarthy counters:

There is a considerable body of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that applies to this subject. Even if the Framers never considered drones, the underlying search principles still inform us: Is the surveillance capable of searching private areas for which the police would otherwise need a warrant? Can it be limited to public areas where people have no expectation of privacy, where cops patrol even if there is no suspicion of criminal activity, and where drone surveillance would not be any different in kind from surveillance cameras (which are increasingly ubiquitous)? Is the use of a drone reasonable under the circumstances (i.e., is there some serious crime or threat, or do they want to use drones to see who’s running red lights)? What are the possible ways the executive branch can abuse the technique, and can this potential be discouraged short of an outright ban?

My “ick” reaction to drones comes not from their association with CIA ops against Al Qaeda but simply from the fact that privacy generally seems to be disintegrating in the digital age. Why not eliminate one extra incursion if we can? This passage, recently flagged by Reason, comes to mind:

As Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ government secrecy project, put it: “The administration’s aggressive pursuit of leaks represents a challenge to the practice of national security reporting, which depends on the availability of unauthorized sources if it is to produce something more than ‘authorized’ news.”

What’s behind the administration’s fervor isn’t clear, but the news media have largely rolled over and yawned. A big reason is that prosecutors aren’t hassling reporters as they once did. Thanks to the post-9/11 explosion in government intercepts, electronic surveillance, and data capture of all imaginable kinds — the NSA is estimated to have intercepted 15-20 trillion communications in the past decade — the secrecy police have vast new ways to identify leakers.

So they no longer have to force journalists to expose confidential sources. As a national security representative told Lucy Dalglish, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, “We’re not going to subpoena reporters in the future. We don’t need to. We know who you’re talking to.”

Now that everyone has a cell phone and car with built-in GPS, I wonder how useful drones will prove to the cops by comparison. If you have probable cause to find out where someone is, there are faster and more precise ways of finding out technologically than by sticking a camera a few thousand feet up. In fact, if Google’s self-driving car catches on, cops might eventually be able to remotely commandeer a perp’s car if necessary. In a world where, according to cybersecurity experts, there’s not a single unclassified computer network in America that’s secure from hackers, drones seem an odd place to draw the line in the sand.

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Drones, eh?

Second Amendment.

Scribbler on May 16, 2012 at 12:33 AM

Scribbler on May 16, 2012 at 12:33 AM

Does that mean that we can have one?

Cindy Munford on May 16, 2012 at 1:27 AM

I have a problem with the drones when put into the total context of the technology available today. We have surveillance cameras, soon cameras where someone sitting at a control desk can not only follow us around, but can also talk to us. The cameras are going to talk. How long before they also begin to interrogate?

Now when we are out of view of the fixed cameras, we are under drone surveillance. Our cars have GPS, computers that are capable of recording exactly every place we have been. This could potentially be dumped by radio link to a passing police car. Will our car tell on us if we are speeding? When is enough, enough?

Why does the government need to easily be able to watch citizens by remote control? That is not the kind of country in which I want to live. I will take the security risk to maintain my liberty. I will also accept some of the responsibility of providing my own security. Rather than buying cameras, why doesn’t the government simply buy every American a shotgun?

crosspatch on May 16, 2012 at 5:51 AM

OK, whatdaheck is the difference between helicopters up there and drones up there? Both are big brother in the sky spying on you.


herself on May 16, 2012 at 5:52 AM

Rather than patting down nuns for snowglobes, why not just give every passenger on an airliner who is sitting in an aisle seat a big knife? Seriously. Just arm all passengers in the aisle with a knife. No terrorist would dare try anything.

This is America, we are supposed to be responsible for our own security.

crosspatch on May 16, 2012 at 5:53 AM

Yeah,yeah,yeah, it’s great fun watching y’all take Idiot Elitist’s lunch money and give him swirlys for being a typical liberal bully, but the important question is, will these drones be flying low enough to hit with a .223 or 7.62X39 caliber rifle? Or do I need to get a nice .308 bolt action? And what ammo would be best for anti-drone applications? Hollow point? All lead practice rounds? I need answers people!

Now, back to the regularly scheduled program of nuclear wedgies for Idiot Elitist…

Battlecruiser-operational on May 16, 2012 at 6:15 AM

Ok, let’s do it. This is a bad idea, and everyone on that panel agrees that it is a bad idea. So let’s put an end to it. What is the next step?

Kevin M on May 16, 2012 at 7:03 AM

For a taste of what a police department might do with drones, cast your memory back to Philadelphia, May 13, 1985. Philadelphia, the birthplace of…domestic aerial bombardment.

curved space on May 16, 2012 at 7:10 AM

We’re becoming a police state.

zoyclem on May 16, 2012 at 7:29 AM

Remotely commandeering a car is already possible to a certain extent if you’ve got On Star. They can just shut the car down remotely.

aic4ever on May 16, 2012 at 7:42 AM

I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I dont need to see any more
To know that
I can read your mind, I can read your mind

The rest of the song isn’t about that, but the chorus sure works.
Anybody else watch Person of Interest? Love that show.

swinia sutki on May 16, 2012 at 7:54 AM

In a world where, according to cybersecurity experts, there’s not a single unclassified computer network in America that’s secure from hackers, drones seem an odd place to draw the line in the sand.

Failure to draw lines in the past does not mean we shouldn’t now. Every single governmental encroachment starts with a justification that it is for our good, it is necessary to fight the criminal element and honest people have nothing to worry about, etc. It is not enough to stand athwart history yelling “Stop”–we must then work to take back our liberty. The more intrusiveness and abridgments we allow, the more work we have, and the more difficult it will be, in the future.

DrMagnolias on May 16, 2012 at 8:47 AM

This would be like Google’s street view program but instead of being limited to seeing stuff on the street/alongside it, everything not covered by a roof/tarp/other covering would be easily visible.

Wanna go out back – in your own, highly fenced/walled backyard – and goof off? Maybe stick an ice cream cone in your back pocket or shoot around some silly string? (Two nominally illegal actions in that bastion of perspicacity, Alabama.) Well, seeing as how you just broke the law the cops could use that as probable cause to tear apart your house for shiggles. Granted, these examples are kinda ridiculous but the amount of “no-no” nonsense on the books is ridiculous too, and this sort of thing would only make it easier for our lives to be subject to outside control.

If y’all are fine with that, have fun.

Aquarian on May 16, 2012 at 8:50 AM

No drones.

bitsy on May 16, 2012 at 9:01 AM

I don’t feel like a terrorist. I feel like a good person that lives under a bad government.
I wish telling the government ‘no’ worked, but saying no hasn’t worked for decades.

leon on May 16, 2012 at 9:03 AM

It’s getting to be a Brave New World out there, folks. I don’t mind if a hummingbird stops to gaze in our lr picture window before zipping away, but I do mind if Big Sis is the one doin’ the lookin’.

Kissmygrits on May 16, 2012 at 9:32 AM

Now that everyone has a cell phone and car with built-in GPS, I wonder how useful drones will prove to the cops by comparison.

Cell phones can’t be fitted with missiles though. Isn’t that the next step here? It’s not hard now to see why the census workers were taking the GPS readings of every home in America.

It’s all unfolding right in front of our eyes, but some of us still do not want to accept it.
If Obama gets his second term, you are going to see a rapid increase in the militarization of our police. Way beyond our worse nightmares. He will have so much more flexibility then, don’t you know.

JellyToast on May 16, 2012 at 9:53 AM

No. I don’t like the drones for all sorts of reasons. But I also don’t think just because they don’t arm them now that they won’t in the future. Its all taking baby steps to turn us into something that resembles a scyfi movie. Are we currently permitted to buy rocket launchers?

magicbeans on May 16, 2012 at 9:56 AM

Anyone know where I can pickup a Browning 50 caliber machine gun or a shoulder firing missile?

SC.Charlie on May 16, 2012 at 11:43 AM

Oh good Lord.

The paranoia in this thread is palpable.

I just spent about 30 minutes trying to fight this stuff off over at a news website with a story about this, so I’ll try and keep it short.

A little background first;

I’m a rather rare breed, a Conservative Nerd. Those who hang out here alot know me, I’m here every day.

I’m also an avid Radio Control hobbyist and have been involved in the “First Person View” (FPV) piloting scene for a few years now. I happen to have built and operate a couple civilian “Drones” myself.

Essentially what I use are ordinary electric RC planes (and a truck) with commercially available cameras and transmitters on them. I’m also looking into building a tri or quad-copter soon as well, also specifically for FPV use.

There are many many people like myself who enjoy the experience of flying without the hassle of getting a pilots license and owning a full sized plane. It’s a ton of fun launching your RC plane, slipping on some video goggles, and piloting it as if you were a 6 inch tall person sitting in the cockpit. The views are always impressive, and seeing the world like the birds do is an experience like no other.

My RC truck affords the opposite view, a low-down view from near the ground, but at quick speeds. My kids love seeing daddy’s truck zooming around and I often lead them on a merry chase around the block as the other neighborhood kids follow along. (I have a GI Joe jeep chassis strapped to the truck, with the camera in the driver’s seat. My daughter puts her Barbie in the passenger seat. She loves it!)

Ok, enough about me. On to the subject at hand:

Over the last couple years there has been a surge in interest in UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems, the official classification of drones) among local LEO departments. Primarily due to the advantages of quick deployment, low cost, and low risk (in case of crash) as compared to traditional aircraft for short term aerial surveillance and recon.

The issue with LEOs using these craft is that there hasn’t been any controlling legal language either permitting or restricting their use. The FAA is rightly concerned about this in that it’s responsibility is keeping the skies safe. Thus, the push to draft some law or regulation concerning their use.

Most of the craft that the local LEOs are operating are craft developed from the same tech that I use. Often it is no more advanced than what I use, just wrapped up in a professional package all ready to go vs cobbled together from disparate parts.

Nonetheless, despite the shiny wrapper, these LEO drones are no more capable of advance espionage than my toy RC plane is. In other words, not at all. Why? it’s a cost to capacity issue. In order for LEOs to be able to afford them, they have to be inexpensive. This SERIOUSLY limits their capability in carrying capacity, range, flight time and technology. These aren’t RQ-11s.

Ultimately, most of these Oh-so-scary drones are nothing more than glorified RC toys with better than average cameras on them. They have flight times measured in minutes or hours (depending on the drone) and ranges limited to a couple miles AT MOST. They are little more than quick-deploy short-range aerial surveillance units with very limited capabilities and uses.

I say all of that to say this: There are things FAR more concerning to freedom-loving Americans than this. This is little more than a distraction from the real issues, and we shouldn’t lose focus. It’s no more a constitutional issue than police helicopters are, and a non-issue beyond the scare factor the media is using to distract from the real stories.

wearyman on May 16, 2012 at 12:09 PM

No drones without a warrant!!!

MAYBE carefully-monitored “hot pursuit” exceptions, provided innocent activity unrelated to the “hot pursuit” is not gathered and used later.

landlines on May 16, 2012 at 12:36 PM

Anyone know where I can pickup a Browning 50 caliber machine gun or a shoulder firing missile?

SC.Charlie on May 16, 2012 at 11:43 AM

How about a “drones = skeet” bill, which would allow free target practice above ones’ own property (but below established commercial flight lanes)?

Seems fair to me, provided nobody is allowed to subject shotguns to more restrictions than drones.

Privately-owned “killer drones” might be fun for the R/C enthusiast, too.

landlines on May 16, 2012 at 12:46 PM

wearyman on May 16, 2012 at 12:09 PM

Excellent post, very informative and educating. As much as I agree with you that this is a relatively minor issue, it is still an issue nonetheless. When something “small” slips through without notice, it makes it that much easier for something bigger (and far more instrusive) down the road.

Grindstone on May 16, 2012 at 1:53 PM


As much as I respect your opinion, I’m going with CK on this. As a retired and very informed former detective and former member of an intelligence unit, I’ve become very uncomfortable with the vast amount of information that is obtained concerning our lives. When I say you have no idea, I mean you have NO idea how much can be assembled that is part your life, your family’s life, your friends’ lives, your employers, etc. It is almost endless.

However, there were and still are some legal limits on how much we could look at, what we could keep, what we could pass on, etc. Most importantly, there were laws preventing us from collecting data on people who did not meet a certain threshold. What CK is worried about, what many are worried about, is the “slippery slope” of giving the government just one more tool to allow surveillance of innocent people.

Who gave them the right? How did we get passed the initial concept that intelligence needed to be gathered on terrorists, to the government wanting to get companies to hold onto your phone records, INCLUDING GPS TRACKS, for two years on the off chance you might do something they deem wrong in the future and they want to have your history at their fingertips?

Drones have a place, along the border perhaps, to cover areas not accessible by the regular methods. Outside that, they do not really offer much more in technology than what is out there already, despite the police departments best opinions.

I was a police detective, I know cops, we LOVE gadgets! Drones would be the ultimate gadget. However, here’s the rub. There is law on the books now that makes it illegal for us to thermal scan your home to see if you are growing weed in your house. An “invasion of privacy” issue. How is that different that you standing on a street corner, minding your own business and having a drone use a zoom lens to see what you are reading or read or the numbers you are dialing on your phone? And who says that information should be retained if gotten by accident like some kind of “Pre-crime” concept??

This is horrible idea. Life is a risk, bad guys get away. Giving up all your privacy to help the government stop that “for the good of the people” is a bad idea.

It is that simple.

archer52 on May 16, 2012 at 3:35 PM

Grindstone on May 16, 2012 at 1:53 PM


I understand your concerns about creeping government overreach, I share them. But not in this case.

The FAA here is basically classifying these “drones” in the same way that it classifies manned police helicopters and airplanes, only with a lower operational “floor” and “ceiling”. Any and all privacy laws and rights apply the same to the drones as they do to airplanes. So really, there isn’t any change here other than saving some money and time and making the whole thing safer in the case of an accident.

Also, to the other posters commenting about shooting down drones, just don’t. In many areas it is illegal to fire off certain types of firearms into the air (really, you are a gun owner and are not familiar with ballistic trajectories?) and the penalties for firing at a police drone are likely going to be similar to firing on an empty squad car.

Beyond that, be aware that while you may own the land, you do NOT own the airspace above it. That is controlled by the US government via the FAA. If you don’t beleive me, try flying a Hot Air balloon from your back yard on a long tether without getting permission from the local office of the FAA and see how it goes once you land. You can find more information on FAA airspace classifications HERE.

Finally, if the idea of police drones bothers you that much, join the RC Hobbyist community and build your OWN drone. Then you can watch the watchers. ;)

wearyman on May 16, 2012 at 3:48 PM

…I was a police detective, I know cops, we LOVE gadgets! Drones would be the ultimate gadget. However, here’s the rub. There is law on the books now that makes it illegal for us to thermal scan your home to see if you are growing weed in your house. An “invasion of privacy” issue. How is that different that you standing on a street corner, minding your own business and having a drone use a zoom lens to see what you are reading or read or the numbers you are dialing on your phone? And who says that information should be retained if gotten by accident like some kind of “Pre-crime” concept??…

archer52 on May 16, 2012 at 3:35 PM

Emphasis mine.

Archer, the drones that police departments will be using don’t have cameras on them anywhere NEAR that powerful. Read up a few posts to my original post. It’s just not possible to put THAT powerful a camera on a lightweight inexpensive quad copter or plane.

These are NOT Predators and Raptors flying at 5K feet with ultra-high-tech surveillance equipment. No Police department in the US has that kind of budget, even IF that equipment wasn’t classified.

These guys are getting just over hobbyist grade planes and quads running on battery packs or tiny “weedwhacker” gas motors with $300 cameras on them that broadcast a crappy NTSC (460 line) quality image over an ANALOG signal. You can get cheap thermal cameras, but the resolution is just as horrible.

Trust ME. I KNOW the tech. The threat from omnipresent static ground-based surveillance cameras is FAR greater than these tiny planes. Again, The only difference between a Police UAS and a Police Helicopter is the cost, the operational floor and ceiling, and the physical presence of the pilot. Otherwise the FAA rules mean that they are treated more or less THE SAME. Same privacy rules apply, same warrant rules apply, same EVERYTHING applies. It’s just cheaper and less risky now.

You guys can relax and stop hyperventilating now. Let’s not worry about cops with toy planes, let’s worry about voting out Obama!

wearyman on May 16, 2012 at 4:40 PM

As much as I respect Andrew C. McCarthy, I side with Charles Krauthammer on this issue.

Colony14 on May 16, 2012 at 7:00 PM

With countless government security cameras monitoring our activities on pulblic streets, it seems natural that drones would be next. It’s always the slippery slope that erodes our liberties.

But drones don’t just monitor public properties, they monitor private property as well and not just private property of the target, but all property the drone passes over to and from.

Oh, but you say the government would NEVER turn on the cameras on properties not under suspision.

But that how it starts. Oh, no we would never ever do that. But then once the drones are in operation, that’s exactly the next step.

Government has legitiment responsibilities, but government can go too far and always will if not constrained. That’s exactly why the founding fathers specifically limited the power of the central government.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

BMF on May 16, 2012 at 7:31 PM

Oh yes drones are bad, but warrantless wiretapping? That’s fine. Patriot act, which was a tougher version of the bill we fought Clinton on tooth and nail after OKC Bombing? That’s apparently fine too. The main reason we even have to discuss domestic drones is because so many of you so called conservatives had your head up your rectum while Bush doubled the national debt and stomped all over the fourth amendment. You fools just hate the government for their freedoms I guess.

LevStrauss on May 16, 2012 at 9:31 PM