A warning against arming the eyes in the sky
Government is a big fan of high tech gear, especially when it allows law enforcement agencies to expand their surveillance capabilities without necessarily tripping any of those inconvenient constitutional triggers.
Such is the case with drones, which as Jay Stanley writes, are becoming staple law enforcement tech at all levels. But what about the long standing taboo against arming drones? Stanley notes weaponized drones have military uses abroad, but at home, the idea is considered off limits. That may not always be the case:
There are exceptions to the general taboo against arming drones. One sheriff in Texas mused about mounting less-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets on drones. The Electronic Frontier Foundation uncovered documents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) suggesting possible future enhancements to its drone program, including “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize” targets of interest, although CBP denied any plans to arm its drones with “weapons of any kind.” And in 2015, North Dakota enacted a drone bill that explicitly permitted law enforcement to equip drones with less-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas.
Arming drones is something that is entirely feasible as their overseas use makes clear. There is good reason to think that at some point, if and when drones become a common part of everyday life, we will see weapons deployed via UAVs closer to home as well.
A reason, then, to make sure the taboo against armed domestic drones remains firmly in place. And an even greater reason to make sure all of the flying spyware is held to the basic Fourth Amendment standards – you want to look? Get a warrant.