(MintPress) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced this week that there could be as many as 10,000 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or “drones” flying in U.S. airspace by 2020. The assessment comes from a recent FAA study of current aeronautical trends up to 2032.
Last month, the FAA said it had issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007, a number that far exceeds previous certifications. Approximately 327 permits are listed as active, meaning some groups are already flying drones in U.S. airspace.
A different FAA report from last month shows that 81 police departments and universities are among the applicants seeking to fly drones in the future. Police departments in Little Rock, Ark., Gadsden, Ala., Miami, Fla., Ogden, Utah and Seattle, Wash., among others, are seeking to use drones for surveillance and crowd control — raising fears of constitutional infringement upon citizens’ rights to privacy and due process of law.
Drones have been used widely by the U.S. military since 2002 to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Once considered a “precise” method of eliminating enemy combatants, the use of drones has come under heavy criticism from human rights organizations in recent years because of the large numbers of civilian casualties and injuries.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, roughly 1,200 civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strikes, more than 200 of whom are children.
Police departments are empowered to use drones under the current National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that authorizes surveillance and possible lethal strikes by federal and state authorities in counter terrorism operations. The Obama administration plans to expand drone surveillance considerably, much to the chagrin of civil liberties proponents.
“Based on current trends — technology development, law enforcement interest, political and industry pressure and the lack of legal safeguards — it is clear that drones pose a looming threat to Americans’ privacy,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated in a December 2011 report titled “Protecting Privacy from Aerial Surveillance.”
A growing minority within Congress now oppose the use of drones that could violate constitutionally protected rights to privacy and due process of law. Earlier this month, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) spoke for 13 hours from the Senate floor in an effort to stop the nomination of John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and to oppose the use of drones to kill U.S. citizens without charge or due process of law.
“I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our constitution is important … that your rights to trial by jury are precious that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court,” Paul said.
Brennan was later confirmed, but Paul’s exhaustive speech did elicit a response from Attorney General Eric Holder who wrote to the senator saying, “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”
Despite FAA plans to expand drone use, possibly allowing for future drone strikes on U.S. soil, a majority of U.S. citizens are opposed to lethal drone strikes against suspected terrorists. A Gallup poll released last week shows that 79 percent of respondents believe that the U.S. government should not use drones to target citizens on U.S. soil who are suspected terrorists.
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