Drones And The Constitutional Conundrum: Collective Outrage Lacks United Front
Update: On Wednesday, Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul launched a traditional filibuster against John Brennan’s nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), arguing for nearly 13 hours on the Senate floor that President Barack Obama and Brennan are out of line with their domestic drone use policies.
Paul was joined by some fellow Republicans, signaling there could be a new united Republican front in favor of protecting civil liberties posed by drone use and potential drone strikes on U.S. soil.
That didn’t last long.
Other Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, critiqued Paul for his questioning of the drone program. Graham went so far as to say he was disappointed with fellow Republicans who stood by Paul.
After being applauded by human rights organizations, including Code Pink, Paul accepted a statement issued to him by Attorney General Eric Holder, in which he said the president does not have the power to use a drone strike on U.S. soil unless the target is a combatant.
(MintPress) – It’s a scene out of a Hollywood movie. An unmanned aircraft flying high in the sky watches over American citizens, utilizing technology that allows it to track civilians’ cell phone signals and determine who’s carrying a weapon. And on “special” occasions, kill those deemed to be a threat.
According to documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), this is a reality in the United States. The government possesses the technology to determine who is carrying guns on the ground.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request in February revealing experimentation of drone use in the United States for domestic surveillance, confirming the government is already on the move. By 2030, it’s estimated there will be 30,000 drones flying America’s skies.
So, who is standing up for protection of constitutional rights violated through the use of government drones? A bipartisan bill calling for constitutional protection in the face of drone use was first introduced in July, yet made little progress.
While outrage exists among varying constitutional protection groups, America seems to be lacking a united front against drone use — a front that speaks for Second Amendment advocates, as well as other constitutional upholders that recognize the threats posed to the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure and Fifth and Fourteenth due process protections.
Americans are caught in a classic case of divide and conquer. Meanwhile, the government moves forward with its drone technology enhancements, going so far as deeming the activity as legal.
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a … drone
While Americans bicker over whether the Second Amendment is more important than the Fourth, and so on, the drone program in the U.S. is taking off — literally.
“There’s no stopping this technology,” Brooking Institute Drone Expert Peter Singer told CBS News. “Anybody who thinks they can put this genie back in the box … that’s silliness.”
While spying on Americans is a clear violation of Fourth Amendment rights, the U.S. government is taking it a step further, claiming it’s legal to use drones for lethal purposes on U.S. soil, as well, blatantly denying Americans’ the constitutional right of due process.
After all, Attorney General Eric Holder, the man who represents the law of the land, says so.
“It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” Holder said in a letter to Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, “has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”
This sentiment was followed up by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney when asked about a leaked Justice Department memo, obtained by NBC News, that stated the Obama Administration could use executive drone strikes on U.S. soil.
“These strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise,” Carney told reporters.
Second Amendment advocates have taken notice, primarily concerned with infringements on Americans’ rights to bear arms in the wake of new spying technology. In fact, they are perhaps the loudest group of Americans sounding the alarm.
Lobby and advocacy organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) are a force to reckon with when it comes to Second Amendment violations, yet there doesn’t seem to be an organization that unites Second Amendment concerns with the First, Fourth Amendments and so on.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the nation’s foremost protector of constitutional rights, yet it’s looked at by the protectors of the Second Amendment with disdain.
As indicated by the Department of Justice in documents released to the ACLU, the government’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) was created on Jan. 1, 2006 and has been active since that point. This means that for seven years Americans have failed to recognize the threat posed by such technology and unite against the constitutional violations it poses.
Finding common ground to protect the Constitution
Second Amendment advocates ears’ perked up when they learned drones can be used to identify civilians carrying weapons. Consequently, some have pointed out other constitutional violations to strengthen their opposition to such technology.
“I am very concerned that this technology will be used against law-abiding American firearm owners,” Second Amendment Foundation Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb told CNet. “This could violate Fourth Amendment rights as well as Second Amendment rights.”
Yes, it could — and is.
Fortunately, some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are beginning to recognize this and call for legislation to protect Americans’ constitutional rights.
“It doesn’t take a constitutional law professor to see why legislation is needed to protect the rights of the American people,” Ted Poe, a Republican congressman from Texas, said in a letter to the Speaker John Boehner in February. “The right of a reasonable expectation of privacy is a constitutional right. Any form of snooping or spying, surveillance or eavesdropping goes against the rights that are outlined in the Constitution.”
Poe introduced the Preserving American Privacy Act first in July, claiming, “We don’t have time to wait until 2030 when there are 30,000 drones in the sky.” At that point, it went nowhere. Now Poe and other Congressmen are pushing for it once again.
“No Federal agency may authorize the domestic use of an unmanned aircraft for law enforcement purposes or for surveillance of a United States national or real property owned by that national, including by any State or local government, except pursuant to a warrant and in the investigation of a felony,” the bill states.
That language is likely to be countered by those representing law enforcement. And, if a version were to pass the House and Senate, it would come down to the approval of President Barack Obama, who has emerged as an advocate for drone use in America and abroad. Considering the remarks made by his attorney general, the administration feels it has the law on its side.
With debate persisting among lawmakers and the government, pressure from American citizens is essential. Yet without a united front, including constitutional advocates on the left and right side of the political aisle, drone use is more likely to continue.
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