That is in Pakistan. (And Iraq and Afghanistan. And maybe even other places, for all we know, since the US is conducting military operations in dozens of countries abroad.) But now, if you live in the US, the drone will likely be coming in all sizes and shapes and purposes, to a city near you. So far the uses being proposed are that of surveillance, but we all know where taking that road typically ends. If US law enforcement can do something with the equipment they're given, they will.
Here's the Washington Post's Peter Finn:
For now, the use of drones for high-risk operations is exceedingly rare. The Federal Aviation Administration - which controls the national airspace - requires the few police departments with drones to seek emergency authorization if they want to deploy one in an actual operation. Because of concerns about safety, it only occasionally grants permission.
But by 2013, the FAA expects to have formulated new rules that would allow police across the country to routinely fly lightweight, unarmed drones up to 400 feet above the ground - high enough for them to be largely invisible eyes in the sky.
Such technology could allow police to record the activities of the public below with high-resolution, infrared and thermal-imaging cameras.
One manufacturer already advertises one of its small systems as ideal for "urban monitoring." The military, often a first user of technologies that migrate to civilian life, is about to deploy a system in Afghanistan that will be able to scan an area the size of a small town. And the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence to seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity.
But when drones come to perch in numbers over American communities, they will drive fresh debates about the boundaries of privacy. The sheer power of some of the cameras that can be mounted on them is likely to bring fresh search-and-seizure cases before the courts, and concern about the technology's potential misuse could unsettle the public.
And the best thing about this, for police departments? It's relatively cheap. As Finn notes, the real question is whether citizens will stand for it:
Still, Joseph J. Vacek, a professor in the Aviation Department at the University of North Dakota who has studied the potential use of drones in law enforcement, said the main objections to the use of domestic drones will probably have little to do with the Constitution.
"Where I see the challenge is the social norm," Vacek said. "Most people are not okay with constant watching. That hover-and-stare capability used to its maximum potential will probably ruffle a lot of civic feathers."
The article notes that there was apparently a revolt in Houston in 2007 against a pilot program for using drones. (Finn couldn't discover the reason for the program's being "aborted," but suspects it had to do with traffic tickets.) My guess is that most people will stand for it. The post 9/11 routine is well established. Some prominent politician receiving campaign funds from a company that makes drone technology will loudly and repreatedly claim that domestic use of the technology will make everyone safer, and then no elected official anywhere will be willing to oppose it. (That's how the boondoggle of the body scanner became standard TSA technology.) After all, for ten years we've been putting up with the security theater we all sacrifice our dignity to at airports, though it's degrading and is purely cosmetic. The politicians know it-- and also know they can't advocate dispensing with any particular component of it, no matter how absurd and ineffective it can be shown to be. As for the "social norm": no one seems to mind that citizens who videotape the police making arrests in public places (particularly when police misconduct is involved) are likely to go to jail for doing so. (Naturally the police can videotape anything they like.)
So tell me. Are we living in a police state yet?