Do Now #64: Why are Drones So Controversial?
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How do you feel about drones? Should they or shouldn’t they be used? Should there be rules about exactly how they can be used? Please explain.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned aerial systems which have become controversial weapons of war – a controversy that extends beyond military uses of drones to target suspected terrorists. On NPR last week, New York Times reporter Scott Shane explained that the administration’s drone program is kept under the radar because to make it public could threaten national security.
Shane describes what really interests him “is how are we using a new military technology in countries where we’re not at war to kill suspected terrorists? …What are the long-term consequences? Is this the way we’ll be dealing with multiple problems perhaps even beyond terrorism in the future? ….”
The concern is that these weapons are changing the way America thinks about war. America has set a precedent by sending drones over sovereign borders to kill enemies, in some cases killing innocent people including American citizens in the cause of defending the US against enemies, especially Al Qaeda and all terrorists. The issue here is that the US is not at war with these countries, but sees the killing of American citizens on foreign territory as part of a counterterrorism offensive.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, about 2,500 people have been killed in drone strikes by the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military since President Obama took office. And the program is expanding. 10 years ago, the Pentagon had about 50 drones; now there are 7,000 drones which range in size from large, Predator drones (costing $5 million or so) carrying laser-guided bombs, to tiny Hummingbirds, devices the size of insects and birds.
There are other non-military uses of drone technology that present privacy and security concerns. John Villasenor, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA, talks about “what these drones will be able to see and how they work.” He gives examples of surveillance scenarios from providing surveillance for police departments, monitoring illegal border crossings, identifying fires, to spotting marijuana plants in someone’s backyard.
The NPR story Drones Over America: What Can They See? claims that “Drones could also be used commercially by real estate firms to get overhead images of a property, by surveyors and cinematographers, and even by paparazzi trying to fly over celebrity homes.”
New technologies have always presented possibilities, both good and bad, depending upon usage and choices. There are arguments in favor of drone technology to consider. Given that these aerial weapons are unmanned, they do not risk the lives of pilots. They can access areas piloted planes cannot reach. Unmanned aerial systems can be used for mapping purposes and providing elevation reports, creating three-dimensional images of remote areas. The technology also can help with disaster response by going to areas which are hard for humans to access and could play a key role in public safety. For example, a nano drone could see if people are trapped inside a blazing building.
And then looking ahead to the world of robots, Dr. Jay Parrish suggested: “Someday, UAS’s may deliver pizza, or bring medicine to a critically sick child.”
PBS NewsHour segment Brennan Defends Intelligence, Drone Policies at Confirmation – Feb. 7, 2013
John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, faced tough questioning during his first confirmation hearing, defending his positions on intelligence policy and drone warfare. Congressional correspondent Kwame Holman recaps the hearing and explores why Brennan withdrew his nomination for the same post in 2008.
To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with@KQEDedspace and end it with #KQEDDoNow
For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.
We encourage students to tweet their personal opinions as well as support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can…and any contribution is most welcomed.
KQED Forum segment Using Drones to Target Americans – Feb. 6, 2013
Until this week, little was known about the legal framework the U.S. government operates under when ordering the killing of its citizens. But now a leaked Justice Department memo outlines the legal case for some of these attacks.
KQED Forum segment Drones and the Obama Administration – June 12, 2012
Drones are taking a major role in President Obama’s national security efforts, which is surprising to some and sensible to others. But it’s safe to say that all around, using drones raises big moral questions about the transparency of war, civilian casualties and setting geopolitical precedence.
KQED News story Drones Over America: What Can They See? – March 12, 2012
Unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, have long played a role in military operations. But imagine thousands of drones flying over U.S. skies — something we may see in just a few years.