Column: Drone on the range
AUSTIN, Texas -- Get ready, America. Here comes "the next latest and greatest thing in aviation." Wow, what could it be? Maybe the airlines are going to drop all of their ridiculous rip-off fees. Tha''d be great!
No, no, not that kind of aviation. You probably won't find this breakthrough so great. It's the arrival and proliferation of "unmanned vehicle systems," soon to be buzzing around the airspace of your own town.
Yes, drones, right here at home. Those very same pilotless, remote-controlled, undetectable planes that the CIA has been secretly using to spy on and bomb people in Pakistan and elsewhere are headed to our local police departments, FBI offices, and ... well, who knows who else will have these toys?
All we know is that Congress -- under pressure from Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and other big drone peddlers -- directed the Federal Aviation Agency earlier this year to open up civilian air space to thousands of them by 2015. And, in their wisdom, our loosey-goosey lawmakers provided no regulation of who can have drones, how many, or for what purposes.
So prepare to be pestered and monitored, for police agencies and corporate interests are said to be abuzz about getting their own. The first ones are expected to be used for high-altitude surveillance, which is worrisome enough. But consider this: A Texas sheriff's office that has already bought a "ShadowHawk" drone says it might outfit the little buzzer to fire tear gas and rubber bullets.
No worries, though. The drone industry's lobbying group has drafted a two-page code of conduct urging purchasers to "respect the privacy of individuals."
How nice. Only, it's a voluntary code -- and totally unenforceable. For more information about this invasive swarm, contact the Electronic Privacy Information Center: www.epic.org.
Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.