Over the past several years the drone industry has grown rapidly. The origin of much of this development has rooted itself in North Dakota, as hundreds of businesses flock to the area to begin research and development of unmanned aircrafts and their accompanying technologies. The essential capitol of drone usage and development is the Grand Forks Air Force base, which has been flying exclusively drones since 2013. But the right to use drones extensively in the Untied States remains with U.S. government, which raises issues on a commercial and political level.
There are many uses for drones from a commercial standpoint. Where they may not serve much of a purpose in densely populated areas where they are seen as a privacy and safety issue, drones allow more rural areas and areas not easily accessible to people the ability to be monitored more efficiently. Drones can be used to help monitor pipelines and wind turbines, help farmers keep track of livestock and gather data on crops, and even help fishermen locate their catch with greater accuracy and speed. But until the commercial sale of drones is legal none of this will happen. Quentin Hardy from the New York Times states in his article on the grown of drone technology in North Dakota, “Right now, private sector drones are where personal computers were in the 1970s: a hobbyist technology waiting to become mainstream.” As long as the commercial use of drones is banned the businesses in North Dakota are stuck in the research and development phase.
The largest and perhaps the most wildly unregulated use of drones, comes from the U.S. Air Force. Since the early 2000s the Air Force has been using unmanned aircrafts for surveillance and since then evolved them into highly accurate and deadly weapons that can be controlled from thousands of miles away. But where technological advances rapidly increase, intelligence and concern for human rights fall behind.
In the award wining documentary “Drone,” it is brought to light how the Air Force uses drones to seek out and destroy suspected terrorists in Pakistan using unreliable intelligence and showing little to no concern for civilian casualties. We hear testimony from those who piloted those drones and how the system is flawed and inhumane, as well as testimony from the villagers themselves who lost family members during a drone strike.
In an interview with Jonathan Borge Lie, the assistant director and producer for “Drone” he talks about his loss of faith in the U.S Government over the duration of shooting this film. When asked what solutions he thinks there are for this troubling issue he states, “There needs to be transparency, so we need to know how they are picking their targets… The other one is accountability. There’s been so many errors that have been made, so many civilians that have been killed; there hasn’t been a single amount of accountability.” Unfortunately there are still some voices in the U.S. Government that still believe killing a terrorist is worth any cost.
What if it were at the cost of American citizens? Likely one of the most powerful points made in “Drone” is made by Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU National Security Project.
“Those who are OK with the United States wielding this authority have to ask themselves what their response would be if Russia, China, Iran claimed the authority to target and kill enemies of the state without identifying who they are, what standards apply, what factual basis there is, what civilian casualties occur. This is a precedent that we are setting for others to follow.”
In other words, what would we think if our enemies started conducting drone strikes on our own civilians under the same pretenses? How would we be different from them?
There are lots of questions to be asked about issues surrounding misuse of drone technology but the question that the drone companies in North Dakota should be asking is: How are drones banned for commercial use when the government misuses them so wildly themselves?