Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

After Transforming Warfare, Drones Set to Enter the Domestic Scene

BY Julia Wetherell | Monday, February 4 2013

A commercially available Quadrocopter drone (Wikimedia Commons)

A lot of modern conveniences have shadowy military roots — think the Internet and the microwave oven – but could drones soon be making an appearance at backyard BBQs and small-town police stations near you? Lev Grossman writes in Time this week that a domestic drone future is on the horizon for the US — and that it may arrive before the government or civilians can work out the ethical and constitutional implications of their use.

Drone warfare on the northwest border of Pakistan — where 362 strikes have been made since 2004, over 300 under the Obama administration alone — has created unease and outrage in the international community and in the US for its killing of civilians. Yet with the Air Force currently prioritizing training for drone operators over fighter pilots, this is likely the future face of American warfare.

Grossman writes that cheap, ever-evolving drone technology will soon seduce non-military sectors — from agriculture to real estate to pizza delivery. Law enforcement agencies may be among the first to benefit, if they aren’t already; last spring the Electronic Frontier Foundation successfully sued the FAA to release the names of groups holding domestic drone licenses, including may local police departments. Grossman quotes a congressional report on domestic drone use that says the “sophistication” of their surveillance abilities “may remove drones from [the] traditional Fourth Amendment framework” that protects citizens from unwarranted search. As structure of the seen and unseen, Grossman says the drone landscape of the future fits well into a tech paradigm we’re already pretty used to:

It's roughly analogous to interacting with an anonymous commenter on a blog: you're dealing with someone who is both present and absent, who has decided that what they say or do will have consequences for you but not for them. Drones bring that asymmetrical dynamic out into the real world: a drone is the physical avatar of the virtual presence of a real person.

The anonymous commenter allegory works well; at least four alleged drone operators outed themselves as Redditors last week when they did a Q&A for members of the site; one compared his job to Call of Duty, which, like many video games, is already acting as a training ground for American soldiers.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

News Briefs

RSS Feed tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

More