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Send In No Drones, Gov. McDonnell

We wholeheartedly join The Rutherford Institute and John W. Whitehead, of Charlottesville, in calling on Gov. McDonnell to create a special commission to fully study the domestic use of drones, with particular emphasis upon the repercussions on our individual privacy and safety.

This is no idle whim. Gov. McDonnell has expressed wholehearted enthusiasm for domestic use of drones, describing it as “great…the right thing to do.”

Gov. McDonnell apparently believes what makes drones such a good thing to use in places like Afghanistan makes their use in the skies over our Virginia neighborhoods a terrific thing to do, as well.

The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama compels the FAA to develop formal regulations for testing and licensing commercial drones by 2015.

Great. Will we have the military, the police and private companies spying on us from the air?

By 2020 there could be 30,000 drones over America, according to the FAA. Drones are now being used by the EPA to spy on farmers in Nebraska.

Is that what we really want?

The Department of Homeland Security is using drones over America now but that promises to be the tip of the domestic spiesberg.

Drone use on this magnitude seems linked to the military-industrial complex President Dwight D. Eisenhower so sternly warned this nation about-there are said to be hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for drone manufacturers should domestic drone use approach what is now projected.

In his letter to Gov. McDonnell, The Rutherford Institute's founder and president, Mr. Whitehead, writes, “Your battlefield analogy was particularly inappropriate. America is not a battlefield, and the citizens of this nation are not insurgents in need of vanquishing. Moreover, a rapid adoption of drone technology before properly vetting the safety, privacy and civil liberties issues involved would be a disaster for your administration and the people of Virginia. What this Commonwealth needs are government leaders who understand that their primary duty is protecting the constitutional rights of its citizens.”

That statement does nothing more nor less than express an absolutely and profoundly important truth that is the bedrock of our life together as a Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States of America.

The very first promises Gov. McDonnell made to us when sworn in as governor, his left hand on the Bible, the right hand raised in the air, were “that I will support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia…”

First and foremost. Everything else came second.

Yes, certainly one can see practical applications for domestic use of drones. To find lost children or the elderly suffering from dementia who might have wandered off, to help law enforcement or aid firefighters battling a wildfire, to name a few.

But drone use domestically is also ripe for misuse or, as laws develop nationally, legally sanctioned uses that we, the people, may not want allowed at all. Big Brother is getting bigger eyes and ears every day as technological advances increase our ability to look and listen to one another, with or without permission.

Wiretaps? Drone use would be a “skytap” that could open Pandora's Box and lock civil liberties inside.

“Without robust safeguards to the privacy and security of the citizens of Virginia,” Mr. Whitehead tells the governor, “we will find ourselves operating under a new paradigm marked by round-the-clock surveillance and where privacy is extinct.”

He then quotes a letter to the FAA by two members of congress-a Democrat, Massachusetts' Edward Markey, and Texas Republican Joe Barton: “Many drones are designed to carry surveillance equipment, including video cameras, infrared thermal imagers, radar, and wireless network 'sniffers.' The surveillance power of drones is amplified when the information from onboard sensors is used in conjunction with facial recognition, behavior analysis, license plate recognition, or any other system that can identify and track individuals as they go about their daily lives.”

The most vulnerable of our rights would be those guaranteed in the First Amendment, the right of assembly and free speech, often against the government which possesses drones that can also be equipped with grenade launchers, a shotgun, tear gas and rubber buckshot.

Remember the SWAT teams that surrounded protesters at the State Capitol and near the governor's mansion during the last General Assembly session? That seemed chilling enough. The tip of this iceberg is colder than what could remain unseen and unknown beneath the surface of any legal domestic use of drones and might sink the first and most important amendment to the constitution Gov. McDonnell swore, before anything else, to protect.

Protect it now, Governor. Appoint the commission.

Send in no drones.