There has been some interesting news on the drone front lately.
The first is the “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” project, which is a online infographic that provides details of U.S. drone strikes starting in 2004 and going up to the last strike on March 10, 2013 based on information from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the New America Foundation. It breaks down the deaths by children, civilians, and other. So far there are 3105 estimated casualties.
Second is an article by Hassan Abbas in the Atlantic that asks several important questions about the effectiveness of the drone strikes campaign. On the one hand there is the obvious argument that the government is killing senior Al-Queda leaders who might harm the US. On the other, there are the costs of civilian deaths and negative impacts on public opinion—and this is setting aside whether it legally or morally acceptable for someone to be killed on the word of some senior government official alone. Abbas points out that drones, and counter-terrorism in general are treating the symptoms (however effectively they actually do that) and not the cause. He writes:
There were roughly 350 drone strikes in the tribal areas since 2004, at an exorbitant cost (even though drone strikes offer a cheaper option in comparison to “boots on ground”). But how many schools were opened in the region over the same period of time? The answer is distressing, as the number of schools has actually declined sharply.
If drone strikes are serving to radicalize the population and are costly, then why not invest in cheaper alternatives, especially if they might be more effective? If the war on terror is about winning hearts and minds, then drones are probably hurting as much as they are helping.
The third is talk of the growth of the domestic civilian drone industry, which might be coming to a law enforcement agency near you . As of October 2012 81 public entities have applied for FAA drone authorization, including the State Department, and sheriffs offices in Canyon County Idaho, Clackamas County Oregon, Grand Forks North Dakota, and Kings County in Washington. Outside of military use, the drone industry wants unmanned aircrafts to take on civilian uses much the way that Tang did. However, there are growing privacy concerns that are brought about by having small unmanned drones that can spy on just about anybody. Joan Lowy of the Associated Press reports:
Drones — some as tiny as a hummingbird — promise everyday benefits as broad as the sky is wide. But the drone industry and those eager to tap its potential are running headlong into fears the peeping-eye, go-anywhere technology will be misused.
Since January, drone-related legislation has been introduced in more than 30 states, largely in response to privacy concerns. Many of the bills would prevent police from using drones for broad public surveillance or to watch individuals without sufficient grounds to believe they were involved in crimes.
The domestic use of drones potentially presents the same challenges as they have raised abroad. The technology is capable of amazing things, and that’s part of the problem. Drones can be used to deliver medical supplies to remote areas or to spy on unsuspecting people—or kill them. At least as far as domestic uses are concerned Americans seem prepared to limit the ways that drones can be used. It’s too bad the same questions weren’t asked about uses abroad.