Don’t bet on the sky

Walk to the nearest window, throw open any curtains or cheap aluminum blinds that block your view of the outside world and crane your neck upward. What do you see?

Photo © U.s. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. Leslie pratt
Photo © U.s. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. Leslie pratt

Walk to the nearest window, throw open any curtains or cheap aluminum blinds that block your view of the outside world and crane your neck upward. What do you see?

Clouds, most likely. But you might also glimpse a knife-edge-thin sliver of icy blue known as the “sky.” Looks pretty nice, right? Pull up a chair: If you stare at it long enough you may experience sensations of calm, inner peace and release from the quotidian concerns of daily life. You may even be able to push from your mind the crushing financial burden of the extortionate interest payments on the loan you took out to pay for your 16-year-old Labradoodle’s artificial hip replacement surgery.

The sky is perfect serenity. Its blueness is proverbial, the standard by which all blues are judged. Contemplate the limpid azure expanse of a summer’s day or the fading magenta glow of a Sonora Desert twilight as the sun slowly recedes against the stoic desert silhouettes of saguaro cactuses. Infinite and all-encompassing, the sky is vast to the point of incomprehensibility. We may even call it transcendent.

Now consider this: The sky wants to rob you of all your earthly possessions, torture your family and ultimately kill you with very expensive heat-seeking air-to-ground missiles.


Three words for you: unmanned aerial surveillance. It’s real, it’s frightening and it’s happening now.

Unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS to industry insiders and drones to the nonexpert press, have lately assumed a mastodonic stature in the public eye. We all know about President Obama’s program of targeted assassinations against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In at least one case a targeted drone strike killed an American-born jihadist.

Republican senator Rand Paul recently attracted an undue amount of cable news attention for staging a 12-hour filibuster of the president’s nominee to replace the previous CIA director. Apparently the senator didn’t like the administration’s coy silence on the legality of hunting down American citizens with robo-planes.

But so far all this nasty drone business has only worried dusky-skinned, bearded men camped out in distant locales. They probably got what they had coming—let the Lord sort ’em out, we say! And though the U.S. Border Patrol has also started using UAS to monitor the Mexican frontier for drug smugglers and illegal crossings, we can all get behind the Secure-the-Border-First imperative, right? Who cares about the aerial terror inflicted against foreigners?

Mark me: It ain’t gonna be just foreigners for too much longer.

The Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of liberalizing the regulations that currently restrict the operation of unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace to below an altitude of 400 feet and within the pilot’s line of sight. Their goal is to open UAS technology to a whole new range of potential private and public applications. These include firefighting, geographic assessment, recreation, security and law enforcement.

No joke. The cops want to get their hands on drones.

We’re talking about the same brilliant individuals who tase the homeless for sport, and in 2006 beat to death a mentally ill Portland man.

Let’s hope we’re not already too late. In fact, cops in many places already have drones. From megalopolises like Miami to tiny towns in North Carolina, police have petitioned the FAA for permission to operate UAS for tactical and surveillance purposes. Some, like the Arlington, Texas, police department, have already gotten the go-ahead. Only major public protests saved Seattle from going the same route.

Cops want drones because they are significantly cheaper to operate than helicopters and can stay airborne for significantly longer periods of time. And several unmanned aircraft can cover a wider area than a single helicopter can. Stick a super-resolution gigapixel camera on these suckers, load up some facial recognition software and you’ve got a nice recipe for an Orwellian surveillance state.

The Supreme Court has ruled that individuals have no right to privacy for their
actions in public places. There’s effectively nothing to stop the police from using the sky to monitor your every move. At the moment there isn’t even a requirement that they obtain a warrant before snapping images of your home.

Americans, take back your skies!

The only way for concerned citizens to counter this dystopian death of privacy is to mobilize a neo-Luddite rebellion against the incipient commercial UAS industry. Invade the factories! Smash the machines! Burn the blueprints!

It worked against the cotton mills, right?