Spy Drones Scare in US Homeland Is All Hype
A false report about the EPA using drones to spy on cattle ranchers has whipped up a national controversy. The Global Hawk drone pictured here belongs to the U.S. Navy.
CREDIT: Northrop Grumman
A fake story about U.S. drones spying on Nebraska ranchers created a national controversy, but few people have bothered to question why the idea of robotic surveillance should scare Americans more than human surveillance.
The controversy began with Nebraska ranchers complaining about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency flying overhead to check up on possible clean-water violations. The EPA's human inspectors rode inside small private planes to do the job, according to the Washington Post. But some Twitter messages about the original story falsely inserted the word "drones" into the news mix.
The Washington Post tracked how a snowballing cascade of fearful reports (or mocking reports in the case of The Daily Show) eventually led to Republican lawmakers furiously demanding the EPA answer to its supposed crimes for using drones to spy on cattle ranchers.
Again, let's be clear — there were no drones being used in this case.
The Daily Beast shrewdly questions why the word "drones" in the headline spurred such viral fear among social media users and news publications. Is drone surveillance somehow worse than the idea of human inspectors doing overhead flights inside small planes?
Well, no. Both drones and manned aircraft serve the same purpose when it comes to surveying battlefields or farmland, and neither is necessarily more nefarious than the other as a surveillance tool. Even as the U.S. military has built up an arsenal of drones, U.S. Special Forces still use ordinary private planes to do their spy work in Africa.
People have the right to question the purpose of aerial surveillance in the U.S. homeland (fewer people seem interested in questioning U.S. surveillance of other countries). But hopefully the debate can avoid unnecessary fear-mongering over the use of robots rather than humans.