Somebody’s Watchin’ Me (and you)

Last week, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate and spoke out in opposition to the use of drones to kill Americans without due process of law.

Regardless of your stand on much of what the Obama Administration has done over the past four-plus years, you have to admit that’s a pretty scary thought. Rarely, it seems, agencies of the federal government are willing to work together in a coordinated effort, unless of course, they are planning to trample on the rights of ordinary citizens.

It doesn’t matter if the President of the United States at the time has an “R” or a “D” behind his name, especially when it can be done in the name of “security.”

Several months ago, I issued a warning about the expanded use of drones shortly after Congress re-authorized the Patriot Act. But since then, government agencies at all levels, as well as the Department of Defense, are hard at work to ensure your rights under the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments are completely shredded.

First, we have the nearly three dozen local law enforcement agencies around the U.S. who have surveillance drones ready to go up in the air — unmanned “bears in the air,” if you will. To do so, however, each agency must receive a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA.

About one year ago, the FAA was already hard at work to “streamline the process” so law enforcement can get more “spies in the sky.” In fact, the agency already estimates there will be as many as 30,000 unmanned aircraft in the skies over the United States alone by 2020.

In the meantime, the latest legislation governing the FAA has mandated the development of a licensing system for commercial drone flights by 2015. That piece of the puzzle has been pushed by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry advocacy group for the multi-billion-dollar UAV industry.

Second piece of the puzzle came in April of last year, when an Air Force “instruction” — which has since mysteriously been deleted from the Air Force’s media website — outlined the use of military drones to conduct domestic intelligence gathering. In the course of gathering such information, if a drone were to “incidentally” record “suspect activity,” the military was obligated to share that information with the Department of Homeland Security to establish domestic surveillance.

The final, and most dangerous, piece of the puzzle came into place most recently when Attorney General Eric Holder said it would be legal to use a military or government “drone strike” to kill an American citizen without the due process of law. How it became “legal” is the part I’m struggling to understand.

The Fourth Amendment is pretty clear on the subject:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The Posse Comitatus Act is anything but vague, as well:

From and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States, as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress; and no money appropriated by this act shall be used to pay any of the expenses incurred in the employment of any troops in violation of this section.

But the situation has had a silver lining, if you can make one out it. As the old saying goes, “politics makes for interesting bedfellows,” but I can honestly say I’ve never been at a moment in U.S. History where Alex Jones and American Civil Liberties Union are on the same side.

Both could be found “standing with Rand” last week.

Ultimately, it will be difficult to know what impact Sen. Paul’s filibuster will have on the issue of UAVs used for domestic surveillance and “homeland security.” I think that will depend on how vocal “We the People” become in the weeks and months ahead.

But that does bring to mind one very important thought to ponder: the bird is really quite safe inside his or her cage, but can we really say that bird is free?

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If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

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Editor Bob Eschliman may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at beschliman@newtondailynews.com via email. He conducts “office hours” 7 to 8 a.m. Thursday at Hy-Vee.