State Senator Daniel Biss, a Democratic legislator from Evanston, recently introduced legislation in Springfield, IL that would regulate the use of unmanned drones in the state of Illinois. This legislation would require a search warrant prior to the use of a drone over state airspace, would prohibit the use of lethal and nonlethal weapons except in cases of emergency, and would require all information gathered that is not part of an active investigation be destroyed.
Although far from ideal, the legislation put forward by Biss is a step in the right direction. It also serves to vindicate those activists who have decried the use of unmanned drones overseas and long warned American citizens that what can happen in Pakistani villages could also happen here.
At first glance, unmanned drones seem like the perfect solution for a nation constantly embroiled in war but afraid of heavy casualties. Think first Gulf War with its "smart bombs" and "stealth fighters." Now we've taken the next logical step of replacing the people flying the weapons into the combat zone with a computer.
The removal of the potential for U.S. military casualties simply makes it easier to go to war overseas. It also provides the government a new way to watch over its citizens and (if needed) kill them.
When I first suggested that Obama's killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, an American citizen who was a leading member of Al Qaeda in Yemen, set a dangerous precedent, some felt that I was splitting hairs. Al-Aulaqi after all presented a clear and present danger, was located in a foreign nation known to harbor terrorists, and had clearly forfeited his citizenship rights by joining an enemy of the United States. We're at war, I was told, and in war such actions are justified in the name of national security.
Maybe all of this is true, but it will be cold comfort to remember that tired refrain if you're ever faced with the business end of a drone. Don't think it can't happen as the National Defense Authorization Act of last year opens the door to military action against terrorists on domestic territory, and the Federal Government has shown itself very creative in its definition of the word "terrorist." Just ask "S," the woman I met in 2011 who was suspected of terrorist activities for visiting the West Bank.
If the legislation put forward by Biss passes, Federal law would still supersede it. But any state law would put Washington, D.C. on notice.
Let's save the eye in the sky for traffic reports and not make killing like a video game. Wars may be necessary from time to time, but they should never be easy. Otherwise we'll never have peace. And any security bought at the expense of civil liberties simply isn't worth the price.