The United States has begun using unarmed surveillance drones on the open seas of the Caribbean as part of the ever-present War on Drugs. Unlike the armed predator drones readers may be more familiar with, these drones, like the majority of military and civilian law-enforcement drones, are intended primarily for surveillance (this Reddit post details the differences between drone types).
This is not the first time that drones have been used in the struggle against drugs, and it's not the first time America has considered using them. But the United States' rush into surveillance programs is troublesome not only legally, but philosophically.
The U.S. government recently refused to ratify the United States Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The reasons usually cited are that the treaty would erode our sovereignty. Hypocritically, our government has legislated that we are to partake in maritime drug enforcement, even though it is clearly illegal. In essence, we are attempting to declare both independent sovereignty of our waters and domination over all other waters if there happen to be drugs illegal in America on them.
This is just more evidence that the Navy’s new strategic plan, which emphasizes global participation and action, is really just a form of military-induced policing. We want our cake and we want to eat yours too. These “me first” policies on international waters are likely to end up alienating other countries as much as our traditional drone attacks do.
Law enforcement is currently experimenting with drones, but the mere possibility of drones playing a larger role in the drug war is worrisome. Even if it could potentially make a dent in drug usage, is this really the best option?
Especially troubling is the thought that these drones could be used in Hawaii. It is in an area of sea where drug traffic feasibly occurs, so by the logic of monitoring the Caribbean we can monitor Hawaii and its surroundings as well. Imagine an entire state literally watched 24/7 by cameras. Do we really want to sacrifice this liberty for something that may not even do much to stop the harm of drug drug trade?
Drugs are no doubt detrimental to society, but to use their prevalence as an excuse to supersede international law and to push monitoring devices on citizens is not worth it. We would have no drug usage if we just all took daily blood samples and took them into the government, after all, but we would rather have our privacy. Instead of pumping money into more military intervention it’s high time to consider legalization of select drugs. Doing so would limit the power of these drug runners, whose existence is such an issue that we have chosen to devote billions of dollars to illegally and briefly impairing them.