Why blind acquiescence to the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for domestic law enforcement will eventuate into compromising the most intimate of our household conversations.
After all, postulations regarding the increasingly powerful potential of these new darlings of law enforcement in the prevention of imminent danger to life, serious damage to property and the surveillance or capture of dangerous criminals and terrorists have been circulating for nearly two decades.
Yet along with the significant avenues that drone advancement could no doubt offer as a conduit for a more safe and secure society is the ubiquitous potential for surreptitiously, and overzealously, gathering a collage of unprecedented ‘audio’ surveillance in the private day-to-day lives of innocent people.
That is to say that what these flying gadgets could do, once inevitably fitted with miniature forms of audio-amplifying parabolic or laser beam microphones and controlled by spy agencies or other law-enforcement officials under the guise of shielding society from brewing dangers, will alarmingly change the character of both public and private life like never before.
Background: Total Information
A combination of research findings, whistle-blowers and diligent investigate journalism over the last decade has highlighted the extent to which it’s become considerably difficult for the common man to imagine even a concept of ‘privacy’ in everyday life.
The Internet, the predominant medium the world-at-large uses for both personal and business-related transactions, has now in the hands of both the UK and USA’s national security agencies been exposed as the most sophisticatedly valuable spying device in the history of mankind.
The top search engines, social networking sites and webmail’s that millions of people use to search for information, discuss confidential business plans and relay the most intimate of their personal and private thoughts to others—every single momentary stroke of keys, even typographical errors they make—can be intercepted by the prying eyes of security agencies who secretly tap into the servers of top tech firms to record and collect information on a users data.
Then there is the internet-connected Smartphone.
It would be unsurprising to most users that the advent of this device renders them with having a sensor in their pockets that allows for spooks to listen and record their communications.
But aside from this now common awareness, intelligence agencies are also engaging in even more furtive actions on the premise of keeping society out of harms way: secretly activating a targeted phones microphone whilst its switched off in order to listen to background conversations, and systematically creating ways to monitor peoples movements via the phones in-built GPS tracking device.
In summation, what you do, where you go, where you shop and with whom you correspond leaves a trove of digital signatures that are recorded and then mandatory retained in a great digital cloud—over which you have no right to delete.
Spy Drones and Parabolas
If the magnitude of electronic surveillance detailed above would suffice for the monitoring of ‘potentially’ conspiratorial suspects who are known to communicate using these methods, then there naturally has to be recourse for monitoring those who deliberately evade them by rarely, if at all, subjecting themselves to such electronic residue.
In open airspace, police helicopters have traditionally carried out the bulk of ‘aerial surveillance’ over the last few decades—recording and relaying, in real time, crimes being committed or the following of suspects as an appendage to law enforcement on the ground.
In the general public sphere, government and private CCTV, which in the UK last year operated on a ratio of one surveillance camera for every 11 people, has been one of the greatest aids to police when investigating crimes.
As for the legal eavesdropping and surveillance of private property, by virtue of a court warrant law enforcement agencies have long utilized a myriad of sophisticated listening devices, like placing bugs on the antennas of vehicles to monitor conversations in a car, or planting devices on walls, ceilings, floors and even in electrical outputs like sockets—to snoop on conversations taking place in homes and offices.
However, when similar attempts to eavesdrop (sometimes randomly) on private or restricted property, both at home and abroad, is not possible either due to operational intricacies or time-related constraints, the CIA, for one, has be known to eavesdrop on a suspects with Parabolic Microphones and Laser Beam technology alternatively.
On a domestic level, the extent to which intelligence agencies have, or concurrently are, carrying out such activities will, in the absence of exposure or forced admission, never be known.
But nobody should doubt that it could happen, because it can.
And if security agencies can fool everyone into thinking they only snoop where they have justifiable cause to do so, one can only imagine the depth of eavesdropping, using this method, that they could have carried out in the past on the innocent and suspected alike.
What is changing is that in a world where cost-effective measures and reduced reliance on human resources in the prevention of terrorism and the fight against organized crime are being encouraged, it’s only a matter of time before the synthesis of miniature spying drones and parabolic/laser beam technology is deployed in nationally integrated airspace.
It makes perfect sense.
Helicopters are both costly to deploy and can be a burden on police manpower and resources – not to mention their inability to stay airborne for long hours and maneuver without arousing attention.
The much cheaper cost of miniature drones means that not only can they be produced en masses, but they can be mobile transported in everything from a police vehicle to a rucksack, assembled and deployed in a matter of minutes, and then programmed to loiter over homes and neighborhoods—for up to twenty hours at a time—taking still, moving or infrared images with the help of facial recognition software.
Then add the possibility—or shall we say inevitable reality—of these mini-loitering machines being crudely fitted with these specially constructed audio surveillance devices to plug the only remaining premise we have for private communication
Yes, these routinely flying objects can be sent by those very same spying agencies, unaccounted for and prone to abuse, without specific lawful warrant or operational clarity and record conversations deep inside the private realm of our homes with a scope of invasiveness that would have no bounds; regardless of whether one considers themselves apathetic to the possible interception of their private communication by the state.
In operational terms, and unbeknownst to the vast majority of the population, it means that in targeting a suspects home, not only the target but also his/her innocent family members and associates, would have their regular familial and personal activity eavesdropped on with virtually no means to cryptographically protect themselves.
This activity would bathroom indulgence, dinner table and TV lounge exchanges, pillow talk and even sexual activities—all subject to auditory monitoring and collection so that agencies can observe, decipher, quarantine or arrest people for potentially conspiring to engage in illegal acts.
In saying this, drone proponents will of course make the case that postulating about their potential for such intrusive surveillance is irrational and unrealistic.
They will argue this on the grounds that drone operators would be strictly prohibited from gathering or storing personal and unrelated communications concerning a target, their family and friends, without either a court warrant or rigid regulatory frameworks that clearly define the scope of their operational parameters.
This, in the real world, holds no grounds whatsoever.
Firstly, even with a court warrant, domestic drones for law enforcement—which are purposely designed to spy on people—would still need to collect all of the audio information emanating from targeted infrastructure, for instance, in order for its handlers to deduce what data is needed for correlations and that which is not.
Secondly, as revelations attributed to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show, legal justifications for surveillance in both the UK and United States, can be so ambiguous that there as good as none, at times.
But this is not to suggest that an unambiguous legal process that clearly balances individual liberty relative to the need for security and surveillance is not paramount in increasingly dangerous and sophisticated societies.
If anything, it’s about making every responsible citizen who believes in the sanctity of their home as a place that the state has no right to intrude, agitating for tougher legislation that pre-empts the inescapable infringements to privacy that law enforcement drones, randomly loitering over our homes in search of incriminating auditory intelligence, could be collecting.
The alternative to such a proposition can only be tantamount to acceding that it’s justifiable for such private communication being arbitrarily scrutinized by government authorities and without any serious accountability or questioning of behavior on the part of the individuals tasked with doing it.
In the democratic society that we live in today, it boils down to a single question we should all be asking ourselves: is it conceivable that we be rendered to building specially-constructed soundproof rooms, resorting to sign languages or writing on paper in order to privately communicate our innermost thoughts as a direct corollary to counter the unrelenting invasiveness of this new spy in the sky?