File:Group photo of aerial demonstrators at the 2005 Naval Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Air Demo.jpg

Can anyone stop the forces of history, of technology and its proliferation? But I do drone on.

Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that attempts by the FAA to prevent the use of civilian drones below 400 feet were illegal given there was no administrative rule in place. This ruling opens the door for widespread use of civilian drones for photography, farming, and whatever else anyone wants to do really. It is worth noting that the ruling does not apply to larger drones that share space with airplanes and helicopters.

The ban was based on a FAA policy advisory given to agency employees who had asked questions about how to handle problems with model aircraft. Since 2007, the agency has insisted its rules applied to drones, as well. Pirker’s lawyer, Brendan Schulman, argued the advisory wasn’t enforceable, and Judge Geraghty agreed.

The agency had struggled to enforce the ban as more and more uses for the small drones popped up. Photographers and videographers were using drones to film everything from “The Wolf of Wall Street” to the Washington Nationals’ spring training. A video showing a Minnesota beer company delivering beverages to thirsty ice fishers went viral, forcing the FAA to shoot down the proposal.

At some point we need to have a conversation about whether we want any limits on the use of drones and what those limits should be. Actually, why don’t we do that now.

The question about drones/UAVs is really about the ubiquity of surveillance technology throughout the country, not just cameras in cities but also military blimps and unrestricted drone use by both the military and now civilians. Everyone is watching each other in the panopticon – but some watchers are more equal than others. Why? The reasons seem less and less clear.

Why does the NSA or the national security state in general have greater surveillance power than the average citizen if we are truly entering an age without privacy? Why should anyone be allowed to hide anything if the Fourth Amendment now basically means “learn encryption.” Not any legal protection, not any moral restraint, with programs like TURMOIL the US government’s position is essentially an admission that your only real Constitutional right is the right to learn how to protect yourself from the government. And we’ll see how long that one lasts given the war not just on leakers but on journalists.

Is this what you want? A government and larger society without privacy – where public and private interests take for granted that they can learn whatever they want about you and your only remedy is technical?

Because right now that is the situation and it is only going to get worse.

Photo by US Navy under public domain.