Mandan News

Dan Ulmer: Spies in the sky


Okay so during my holiday I noted an article in the Tribune that said Grand Forks was studying the “ethics” of allowing its police department to use drones to patrol its streets. (drones: unmanned planes with high resolution cameras that can pinpoint people and other objects from an incredible distance… the same ones they use in the war on terror… I assume the ones they are playing with in Grand Forks don’t have weapons, but I may be wrong.)

My first thought was this is becoming a bad movie, my second thought was well, the Grand Forks airbase’s new mission involves using drones to patrol the most peaceful border in the world… the one between us and Canada… and then I recalled that Grand Forks wants to become the center for training and developing these drones, and all I could think was, “Well, at least they are studying the ‘ethics’ of using these things on ‘we the people.'”

I’m left to wonder what the folks who are so excited about using this “spy in the sky system” are thinking. It seems to me that this is another spin off from 9/11 where you and I have become willing to trade our rights for security… we all seem rather desensitized to this intrusion into our right to privacy and I feel like I’m the only one willing to say anything about it.

So having exposed my thoughts on this I might as well continue before the drones move over my house. Think about this, the cameras on these rigs go beyond our imagination. Most likely they can surreptitiously spot and track each of us in any given scenario that the best minds in the spy business can dream up.

I imagine that law enforcement would really be attracted to this new tool and it may save you and I as taxpayers a ton of money because we could replace a lot of uniformed police with these things. Rather than having squad cars patrol the streets we’d have invisible drones watching traffic, responding to complaints, and videoing our every move… and most likely the videos would be used against us in court and we wouldn’t know we got caught or accused of crossing a line until they showed up to take us away.

In this cyber world the drone would direct officers to a scene and record every move while moving other drones into monitor other scenes and recording anything that’s going on anywhere in any given community… indeed if they catch on our privacy will become a thing of the past… and how will all this happen?

I would postulate that both of my loyal readers think: “Well Dan, why should I worry as long as I’m not doing anything wrong? Wouldn’t this be a solid way of securing our communities? I’d sure feel safer…etc.”

Freedom is messy and filled with risks and I think the big question is who gets to decide what these new tools get to record, and how do you really feel about knowing that your every move can be recorded without you knowing who’s doing what to you?

I guess I may be a bit paranoid but my sense of freedom is that we can’t be free and independent without protecting of our personal privacy. And I can’t think of a right that has been more violated lately. Each of us is already considered “fair game” once we leave the privacy of our own home or land. However, even that has been eviscerated by the homeland security act… i.e. secret courts that can issue warrants after law enforcement searches your home. Yet no one is saying much about this because we think this law only applies to terrorists.  Who gets to determine what one of those looks like… the local sheriff, state’s attorneys, bureau of criminal information, your neighbor, you, me, or someone with a grudge against Norwegians?

Let’s say it’s the latter and recall history where the Jews were herded into death camps. It took a while for Hitler to desensitize and convince his people that the Jews needed to be exterminated, but in the end his people figured it was a good idea and millions of Jews were turned into ashes.

So call me paranoid but I can’t help but compare this march towards security to the holocaust… and I’ll leave you with Pastor Martin Niemoller’s quote which is etched into the walls of the Holocaust Museum:

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Let’s hope Grand Forks can truly find an ethical solution that limits these spies in the sky and makes sure that you and I can continue to enjoy whatever freedoms we have left…