I've often tried to imagine how it feels to know that pilotless Predator drones are hovering overhead, their unblinking eyes searching for any sign of movement, their Hellfire missiles just a button-push away from erasing your sorry butt from the face of the earth. It’s so Old Testament: Judgment on high, all-seeing, wrathful. Someday soon, we may get a taste of that experience, albeit without the Hellfires. Predators and other drones are "entering the national airspace," The Washington Post reports this week, as police and the Department of Homeland Security begin to experiment with them as surveillance tools right here in the U.S. Drones are already patrolling the Mexico border and have been used to search for missing persons in remote areas; law-enforcement agencies are quietly exploring their usefulness in criminal investigations, hostage situations, and even highway speed-limit enforcement. "The nice thing is, it's covert," said Bill C. Nabors Jr. of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which used a drone last year to spy on an armed suspect’s home before a SWAT team raid. "You don’t hear it, and unless you know what you're looking for, you can't see it."
So here we are again, at the junction of Public Safety and Privacy. Law-enforcement agencies are moving cautiously on drone deployment, fearing a strong public backlash. But if Americans feel threatened by criminals or terrorists, history shows, we'll pay almost any price to feel safer, right up to airport security agents peering through our clothes and palpating our privy parts. The future is here, and we have choices to make: Our old, 20th-century notions of privacy, or the drone of Predators overhead, hunting evildoers.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Bush vs. Clinton in 2016 is the perfect way to make millennials hate politics even more
- The latent sexism of the male marriage proposal
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- This judge is the reason we're still fighting over net neutrality
- 10 things you need to know today: November 28, 2014
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- How to adopt the perfect rescue dog
- Why the poor can't catch a break on Thanksgiving
Subscribe to the Week