States Push for Domestic Drone Regulation

At least 40 states are pushing for regulations that would enact stricter requirements for law enforcement to use drones inside the United States. One example is in Ohio, where Ohio Rep. Rex Damschroder (R-District 88) has proposed legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to obtain search warrants before using drones to surveil on citizens.

From the Associated Press:

“Right now police can’t come into your house without a search warrant,” said Ohio Rep. Rex Damschroder, who has proposed drone regulations. “But with drones, they can come right over your backyard and take pictures.”

Damschroder’s proposed bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using drones to get evidence or other information without a search warrant. Exceptions would include credible risks of terrorist attacks or the need for swift action to prevent imminent harm to life or property or to prevent suspects from escaping or destroying evidence.

The Republican said he isn’t against drones but worries they could threaten constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“I don’t want the government just going up and down every street snooping,” Damschroder said.

Rep. Damschroder’s bill would restrict law enforcement’s ability to use drones with a few exceptions:

  • The U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security has determined it could prevent a terrorist attack;
  • The police agency has gotten a search warrant from a judge;
  • If there’s a “reasonable suspicion” the drone’s use will prevent “imminent harm.”

The bill’s fate is still uncertain–the Ohio House Speaker declined comment on whether it might pass. But drone limits are not unique to Ohio. The AP notes that Florida, Idaho, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia have all enacted drone legislation. (The ACLU has a comprehensive breakdown of domestic drone policy details here.)

Several other states are considering similar legislation as the drone technology becomes more populized among law enforcement agencies. This February, the Federal Aviation Administration reported that it had approved more than 1,400 requests for drone use since 2006 to over 80 law enforcement agencies.

The efforts to limit drone use have opposition from law enforcement hardliners and–the people who make the drones.

[The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International] wants guidelines covering manned aircraft applied to unmanned aircraft.

“We don’t support rewriting existing search warrant requirements under the guise of privacy,” said Mario Mairena, government relations manager for the Arlington, Va.-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The association predicts unmanned aircraft systems will generate billions of dollars in economic impact in the next few years and says privacy concerns are unwarranted.

But the movement against drones won’t go down without a fight. The town of Deer Trail, Colorado plans to vote on an ordinance that would issue “drone hunting licenses” at $25 a pop, according to CBS News. Phillip Steel, a Deer Trail resident who proposed the ordinance, says, “if you don’t want your drone to go down, don’t fly in town. That’s our motto.”


Click below for the full article.

NY Times: The Pros and Cons of a Surveillance Society

Here are three topics much in the news these days: Prism, the surveillance program of the national security agency; the death of Trayvon Martin; and Google Glass and the rise of wearable computers that record everything.

Although these might not seem connected, they are part of a growing move for, or against, a surveillance society.

On one side of this issue we have people declaring that too much surveillance, especially in the form of wearable cameras and computers, is detrimental and leaves people without any privacy in public. On the other side there are people who argue that a society with cameras everywhere will make the world safer and hold criminals more accountable for their actions.

But it leaves us with this one very important question: Do we want to live in a surveillance society that might ensure justice for all, yet privacy for none?

In the case of Mr. Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, the most crucial evidence about how an altercation between the two began — one that ultimately led to Mr. Martin’s death — came down to Mr. Zimmerman’s word.

As the trial showed, eyewitness accounts all differed. One neighbor who was closest to the altercation saw a “lighter-skinned” man on the bottom during a fight that ensued. Two other neighbors believed that Mr. Zimmerman was on top during the fight. One said she saw the man on top walk away after the fight.

Clearly the memory of one or all of those neighbors had been spoiled by time, confusion and adrenaline. But if one of those witnesses — including Mr. Martin or Mr. Zimmerman — had been wearing Google Glass or another type of personal recording device, the facts of that night might have been much clearer.

“Whenever something mysterious happens we ask: ‘Why can’t we hit rewind? Why can’t we go to the database?’” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington. “We want to follow the data trail and know everything that we need to know. The big question is: Who is going to be in control of that recording and data?”

Prism, the highly secretive government program that was brought to light last month by a government whistleblower, is an example of a much larger scale of recording and data. President Obama has defended the government’s spying programs, saying they help in the fight against terrorists and ensure that Americans stay safe.

But critics say it goes too far. Representative James Sensenbrenner, the longtime Republican lawmaker from Wisconsin, compared today’s government surveillance to “Big Brother” from the Geroge Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

Michael Shelden, author of “Orwell: The Authorized Biography,” told NPR earlier this month that today’s surveillance society is just like the book.

Orwell, Mr. Shelden said, “could see that war and defeating an enemy could be used as a reason for increasing political surveillance.” He added, “You were fighting a never-ending war that gave you a never-ending excuse for looking into people’s lives.”


Click below for the full article.

Roll Call: GOP Leaders Face Libertarian Revolt Over NSA, Egypt, Syria

House GOP leaders are scrambling to quell a quiet libertarian rebellion that threatens to block consideration of the Defense appropriations bill.

A small group of Republicans are holding the spending bill hostage until they get votes on several controversial amendments.

“We’ve conveyed to the whip team that we won’t vote for the rule if they don’t allow debate and votes,” Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said Friday. “We don’t need all the amendments to be allowed. We need at least one substantial amendment on three things: Egypt, Syria and NSA.”

Massie has two amendments before the Rules Committee: one that would defund military operations in Syria and one that would defund military operations in Egypt. Another leader in the Republican rebellion, Justin Amash of Michigan, has an amendment that would end funds for the National Security Agency’s blanket collection of telephone call records in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaking of the program.

Rules Committee member Rich Nugent, R-Fla., has a similar NSA amendment, but the libertarian lawmakers say it insufficiently addresses the issue.

GOP leaders have been coming off a string of impressive victories lately — from passing the farm bill without a single Democratic vote to navigating a No Child Left Behind rewrite. But the Rules Committee postponed their meeting Thursday on the Defense appropriations bill, and leaders are still figuring out if they have the votes to squash the Republican revolt.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has pleaded with lawmakers in the group to not shoot down the rule and, consequently, shoot Republicans in the foot.

According to an aide to one lawmaker in the group threatening to vote down the rule, leadership has used “every tool in the toolbox” to block the amendments. The aide said they have faced a number of procedural roadblocks, from leadership saying their amendments legislate on an appropriations bill to having their amendments submitted to the Congressional Budget Office for a score. The aide said it has been a “concerted effort.”

But the lawmakers have cleared the hurdles, they say, and they want votes. They are drafting a letter calling for the opportunity to vote on their amendments, and they are seeking signatories.

On Friday, Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who will be controlling the Defense appropriations rule on the floor for the Democrats, said the Republican Conference is “just chaos.”

“They can’t seem to get their act together. So they got a problem,” McGovern said. “The Republican leadership long ago lost the ability to lead.”

McGovern, who is also a Rules panel member, said Democrats were initially told the Rules Committee was delaying its Thursday meeting on the Defense appropriations bill “out of deference to us” so Democrats could vote in the ranking member of the Natural Resources election, even though no Democrat asked the committee to delay the hearing.

“And then they delayed for another hour, and then they delayed it indefinitely and never told us why,” McGovern said. “We all know why: It’s because of these NSA votes.”

The Rules Committee plans to mark up the rule for the Defense appropriations bill at 5 p.m. on July 22, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Friday that the House will consider the DOD appropriations bill next week.


Click below for the full article.

Video: Fourth of July Reflection, What if we actually had a sound (and constitutional) foreign policy?

On the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence for the GREATEST country in the world, let us reflect as to what our foreign policy should be going forward. What would the founding fathers have wanted? Does our current foreign policy follow the constitution? What does our current foreign policy do to our national debt? Does our foreign policy actually make us safer? Please keep those questions in mind when watching this video….. ACLU Calls Bullshit on Obama’s Drone ‘Due Process’ Promises

As Ed Krayewski noted yesterday, not everybody was impressed by President Obama’s national security speech, in which he vowed to make himself be extra specially careful when raining death from the sky on suspected terrorists (and collaterally damaged civilians), including American citizens, with drones. Sen. Rand Paul may have been the pithiest, when he remarked, “I still have concerns over whether flash cards and PowerPoint presentations represent due process.” At greater length, the American Civil Liberties Union also expresses some doubts that “Presidential Policy Guidance,” whatever in hell that is, is the same as due process.

Says, in part, Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU:

To the extent the speech signals an end to signature strikes, recognizes the need for congressional oversight, and restricts the use of drones to threats against the American people, the developments on targeted killings are promising. Yet the president still claims broad authority to carry out targeted killings far from any battlefield, and there is still insufficient transparency. We continue to disagree fundamentally with the idea that due process requirements can be satisfied without any form of judicial oversight by regular federal courts.


Click below to read the full article.

CNN: Obama: U.S. will keep deploying drones — when they are only option

Watch this video

Drone strikes are a necessary evil, but one that must be used with more temperance as the United States’ security situation evolves, President Barack Obama said Thursday.

America prefers to capture, interrogate and prosecute terrorists, but there are times when this isn’t possible, Obama said in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington. Terrorists intentionally hide in hard-to-reach locales and putting boots on the ground is often out of the question, he said.

Thus, when the United States is faced with a threat from terrorists in a country where the government has only tenuous or no influence, drones strikes are the only option — and they’re legal because America “is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban and their associated forces,” Obama said.

He added, however, “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.”

Increased oversight is important, but not easy, Obama said. While he has considered a special court or independent oversight board, those options are problematic, so he plans to talk with Congress to determine how best to handle the deployment of drones, he said.

 The nation’s image was a theme throughout the speech, as Obama emphasized some actions in recent years — drone strikes and Guantanamo Bay key among them — risk creating more threats. The nature of threats against the United States have changed since he took office — they’ve become more localized — and so, too, must efforts to combat them, he said.

“From our use of drones to the detention of terror suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation and world that we leave to our children,” he said.

Today, al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan worry more about protecting their own skin than attacking America, he said, but the threat is more diffuse, extending into places such as Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and North Africa. And al Qaeda’s ideology helped fuel attacks like the ones at the Boston Marathon and U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

Obama said the use of lethal force extends to U.S. citizens as well.

On Wednesday, his administration disclosed for the first time that four Americans had been killed in counterterrorist drone strikes overseas, including one person who was targeted by the United States.

“When a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America — and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot — his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team,” Obama said.

To stop terrorists from gaining a foothold, drones will be deployed, Obama said, but only when there is an imminent threat; no hope of capturing the targeted terrorist; “near certainty” that civilians won’t be harmed; and “there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat.” Never will a strike be punitive, he said.

Those who die as collateral damage “will haunt us for as long as we live,” the president said, but he emphasized that the targeted individuals aim to exact indiscriminate violence, “and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.”

It’s not always feasible to send in Special Forces, as in the Osama bin Laden raid, to stamp out terrorism, and even if it were, the introduction of troops could mean more deaths on both sides, Obama said.

“The result would be more U.S. deaths, more Blackhawks down, more confrontations with local populations and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars,” he said.

The American public is split on where and how drones should be used, according to a March poll by Gallup.

Although 65% of respondents said drones should be used against suspected terrorists abroad, only 41% said drones should be used against American citizens who are suspected terrorists in foreign countries.


What do you think?  Should American Citizens be targeted and killed on American or Foreign soil without due process of law?  Click below for the full article.

Steve Chapman of the Washington Examiner: Stay out of Syria

With the Iraq war behind us and our departure from Afghanistan underway, the United States could be entering a well-earned respite from fighting. But even before peace can take hold, hawks are singing the old country song: “I’ve enjoyed as much of this as I can stand.”

They see a way to escape in Syria, where rebels have been fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad for more than two years. For most of that time, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have been leading the call for U.S. military intervention — and President Barack Obama has been declining the invitation.

His critics, however, think they now have him where they want him. Obama earlier said that any use of chemical weapons by Assad would be a “game changer,” and last week, the White House said it thinks he’s used sarin gas, though it said further investigation would be needed.

Obama was careful in his Tuesday news conference to emphasize the uncertainties: “What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them.”

So far he’s settled for a minimalist response: possibly sending weapons to the insurgents. He added that as a result of the gas attacks, “there are some options that we might not otherwise exercise that we would strongly consider.”

Strongly consider? My advice is to consider them till the cows come home — just don’t actually adopt them. The options at hand are generally dangerous, ineffectual or both.

Graham says the United States has to act because “the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists.” In reality, the greatest risk is putting our troops into a civil war where they could end up targeted by both sides, as we ingeniously arranged in Iraq. As we showed there, removing a dictator can unleash endless sectarian conflict. Fortunately, even McCain says he doesn’t favor American boots on the ground.

The preferred instrument of hawks is air power — to enforce a no-fly zone against the regime or destroy military assets. But it’s a lot easier said than done.

To begin with, Syria has one of the best air defense systems in the world, built with help from Russia. “Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, frequently singles out Mr. Assad’s air-defense prowess as the biggest single obstacle to U.S. intervention,” reports The Wall Street Journal. Casualty-free intervention, a la Libya, is not a realistic possibility in Syria.

Taking out Assad’s anti-aircraft batteries — or tanks, trucks and infantry — would inflict heavy casualties on the people we’d like to help. Much of the fighting takes place in cities, where civilians are dangerously exposed.

Even precision bombs launched from drones, notes University of Chicago scholar Robert Pape, author of “Bombing to Win,” have a blast radius of up to 50 feet, and their shock waves can easily bring down neighboring buildings. Our drone strikes in rural Pakistan do enough collateral damage to sow deep anger among the locals. In urban Syria, civilian fatalities would be far higher.

U.S. bombing might backfire by inducing the regime to make full use of its chemical weapons while it can. Air power also can’t head off the danger of those supplies falling into the hands of Islamic radicals. Bombing chemical weapons sites, even if we could identify them, would mean spewing deadly nerve agents over a wide area — which sort of resembles the outcome we’re trying to prevent.

But securing them from militants would require ground forces — as many as 75,000, according to the Pentagon. Transporting the stockpiles out of the country or destroying them would take a lot of troops and time. “There is no exit strategy with this option either,” says Michael Desch, a national security scholar at the University of Notre Dame.


Click below for the full article.

FOX NY: 30 arrested in NY during rally against drones

Thirty people protesting against unmanned aerial drones outside Hancock Field  Air Force National Guard Base have been arrested.

The Post-Standard  reports that the arrests Sunday came after a series of rallies and  workshops held in Syracuse over the weekend by the Upstate Coalition to Ground  the Drones and End the Wars.

A group of people lying on the base’s driveway were arrested. Charges include  disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration and loitering. About  250 people had marched to the gates, some pounding drums and chanting.

The base is home to the 174th Attack Wing of the New York Air National Guard,  which operates unmanned, armed drones. They are used for intelligence gathering  and bombing ground targets.


Click below for the full article.