The legality of drones has been discussed ad nauseam at this point, as the Obama administration continues to use them overseas, often resulting in the deaths of numerous civilians.
Drones are often associated with raining death upon militants (and civilians caught in the crossfire), but it seems they may not be all bad. Power companies could use drones to monitor transmission lines and farmers could fly them over their fields, detecting which crops need water. Film companies believe drones could help to make them movies and even journalists are interested in drones gathering information at protests. Law enforcements, especially departments with tight budgets, could use drones to replace helicopters for search and rescue.
Most impressively, drones could also be put to work for humanitarian aid and relief. While the U.S. launches a series of multi-billion dollar aid programs around the world each year, the effectiveness of that aid is at times hindered by hostile conditions, conflict zones, warlords, etc. that essentially choke the aid flows into the affected areas.
Deploying drones for humanitarian purposes could overfly any number of these barriers and conduct aid operations such as supplementing existing supply chains or providing emergency drops. In the future, the drones could also be used to find survivors stuck in rubble following the aftermath of natural disasters or survey the body temperature of populations to hunt killer outbreaks.
However, despite the numerous benefits these technological advancements could provide, there is an understandable level of discomfort with allowing drones in U.S. skies and giving the government Big Brother capabilities.
The ACLU, for one, has already expressed concern over the use of domestic drones for surveillance. According to them, drones should only be deployed by law enforcement in the case of an emergency with a warrant and images should only be retained when there is reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime could be obtained.
However, this is almost a moot point considering that law enforcement is not allowed to use evidence collected via drone in a case. The ACLU is also against the proposition that drones be equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons.
"Americans have the right to know if and how the government is using drones to spy on them," said Catherine Crump, a lawyer for the ACLU.
Some lawmakers have had similar concerns; In Congress, Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would require police to obtain a warrant or court order prior to operating drones to collect information on an individual. Legislatures in 15 other states are considering proposals to limit drone use including Virginia, which has already proposed a two-year moratorium on drones.
There is also the hazard drones can pose, considering that the safety record of military drones is not all that reassuring. According to the Air Force, its three main UAVs — the Predator, Global Hawk, and the Reaper — have been involved in over 120 “mishaps.” The statistic, however, does not include drone mishaps operated by other branches of the military or CIA, nor do they include accidental civilian, U.S or allied troops deaths.
Although there is a great deal of good to come out of drones in terms of aiding in humanitarian relief and easing the lives of individuals from the police force to farmers, the dangers they pose are also great and need to be dealt with before the government truly allows the use of drones in U.S. skies.