Washington: The prospect that thousands of drones could be patrolling US skies by the end of this decade is raising the spectre of a Big Brother government that peers into backyards and bedrooms.
When Virginia Gov Bob McDonnell, a Republican, suggested during a radio interview last month that the unmanned drones be used by police domestically since they've done such a good job on foreign battlefields, the political backlash was swift.
John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which provides legal assistance in support of civil liberties and conservative causes, warned the governor, "America is not a battlefield, and the citizens of this nation are not insurgents in need of vanquishing."
There's concern as well among liberal civil liberties advocates that government and private-sector drones will be used to gather information on Americans without their knowledge.
A lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation of San Francisco, whose motto is "defending your rights in the digital world," forced the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year to disclose the names of dozens of public universities, police departments and other government agencies that have been awarded permission to fly drones in civilian airspace on an experimental basis.
Earlier this year Congress, under pressure from the Defense Department and the drone manufacturers, ordered the FAA to give drones greater access to civilian airspace by 2015. Besides the military, the mandate applies to drones operated by the private sector and civilian government agencies, including federal, state and local law enforcement.
Giving drones greater access to US skies moves the nation closer to "a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the authorities," the American Civil Liberties Union warned last December in a report.
First Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2012, 22:24