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A Plague of Drones

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The nature of warfare has, more often than not throughout history, been driven by technology. The Trojan horse, you might say, was a technological invention of the Greeks, followed by the long bow, catapults, machine guns, nuclear weapons, and... the drone.

The drone is new and effective and, for the time being, we own it. But not for long. As with almost every new weapon, its use is outrunning the law, ethics, and morality required by civilization to govern its use. After considerable commotion, the Obama administration has ruled out its use against American citizens on U.S. soil.

This issue has rightly confused standard political categories. Democrats cannot be suspicious of the misuse of police and military power only when Republicans are in office. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Constitutional protections from state-sponsored violence either exist or they do not. Like many libertarians, Senator Paul is at least consistent in his insistence on citizen protection against the abuse of governmental powers. Senators Wyden and Mark Udall are right to be joining in and questioning authority.

Our society, through its government, better devise explicit, transparent rules for the use of drones very quickly or drone technology will proliferate and outrun our efforts to govern it. The uses of expediency are sinister. Expediency says: if it can be done, it should be done. Our current opaque drone policies will come back to haunt us, especially when a more expedient administration, comfortable with torture, unleashes an unconstitutional plague of drones both at home and abroad and establishes the rule of no-rules for the world at large.

Efforts to control proliferation of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea will look laughably easy compared to efforts to control the proliferation of drones. Forget about privacy when every police force in America can use a hummingbird drone to look in your window. And forget about your privacy when an "enemy combatant" label subjects you to surveillance.

Imagine what a Kurt Vonnegut could make of a society where thousands of garage hobbyists, using mail-order kits, fill the neighborhoods with bumblebee to bald eagle size creatures armed with tiny cameras or even something more. Does the Second Amendment guarantee your right to protect yourself with armed drones?

Who decides the targets for drones? What are their names and positions? How do they decide? No probable cause; no warrants for arrest; no preliminary hearings; no counsel; no jury; no judge --except some nameless, faceless officials who do it all because they decide you are an "enemy combatant," however one defines that arbitrary category.

Too much can be made of the age of drones, but too little attention can be dangerous as well. History shows that virtually everything we have done abroad, up to and including assassination of foreign leaders, returns home to haunt us. It is neither fear-mongering nor irresponsible to raise the drone issue at this relatively early stage. Like weaponry throughout the ages, drone technology will proliferate and escape our efforts to control it, even if we were to try to do so.

When technology at the service of expediency dictates our policies, we are no longer the nation we were created to be and that we continue to tell ourselves we are, a constitutional democracy.