The state government’s use of drones for a whole host of observatory and surveillance operations will soon be a reality.
According to a recent story in the News & Observer, the wheels are already turning in Raleigh — state Chief Information Officer Chris Estes “has requested $215,000 in the next state budget to pay for an executive director and data analyst for a UAS governance board” and legislators have been talking about drones in committee meetings for some time.
The idea of a civilian governing board, at the local level, with a mandate of deciding drone policy and requests and regulating use is a good one, given the circumstances. We must cope with the reality that state government agencies will have drones in the toolbox in the near future, if they don’t have them clandestinely already. The federal government has been using drones overseas for a whole host of operations, including targeted military strikes and assassinations. It’s reasonable to think that some of that technology has trickled down to agencies operating in this state.
Any governing body for drone use in North Carolina should be inherently skeptical of the government departments making the requests. There should be no rubber stamps. Civil liberties advocates should staff the board — people with absolutely no ties to the state government or the agencies requesting case-by-case permits to utilize drone technology. The opportunity for misuse is so great, the unchecked power of drones so dystopian, that North Carolinians must be extremely wary of anyone actively promoting their domestic use.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any situations in which drones would be a perfectly reasonable tool. Rescue operations, research and disaster recovery come immediately to mind. But there aren’t many uses, outside of those, that have any place in this state if we value our constitutional rights.
Legislators, be cautious. Drone technology is a serious matter, and its use must be gravely considered. It can be used for good, in the hands of the right people and organizations and with the appropriate amount of civilian oversight.
Michael Gebelein is managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.