The presence of drones in the US was brought home Wednesday night when some people thought they saw a UFO along the Capitol Beltway in Washington. In fact, it was a disc-shaped X-47B UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air System) being hauled from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland for testing.
Civil libertarians warn that “unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life,” as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) put it in a report last December.
“The technology is quickly becoming cheaper and more powerful, interest in deploying drones among police departments is increasing, and our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with democratic values,” reported the ACLU. “In short, all the pieces appear to be lining up for the eventual introduction of routine aerial surveillance in American life – a development that would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States.”
Steven Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, highlights one potentially controversial part of US Air Force policy regarding military drones flown over the US.
“Air Force Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operations, exercise and training missions will not conduct nonconsensual surveillance on specifically identified US persons, unless expressly approved by the Secretary of Defense, consistent with US law and regulations,” according to an instruction on oversight of Air Force intelligence.