Drone World Update

A few recent headlines from the emerging world of drone politics: Christof Heyns, the U.N.’s independent investigator on extrajudicial killings, says he is not satisfied after meeting with U.S. officials in Geneva to discuss the legal framework — or lack thereof — for U.S. drone strikes. "I don’t think we have the full answer to ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

A few recent headlines from the emerging world of drone politics:

Christof Heyns, the U.N.'s independent investigator on extrajudicial killings, says he is not satisfied after meeting with U.S. officials in Geneva to discuss the legal framework -- or lack thereof -- for U.S. drone strikes. "I don't think we have the full answer to the legal framework, we certainly don't have the answer to the accountability issues," he told reporters. Heyns said that he worried U.S. drone use without firm legal backing would " creates precedents around the world."

One country that may take advantage of that precedent is Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez last week acknowledged reports that his government is building its own drones with help from "China, Russia, Iran, and other allied countries.... Of course we're doing it, and we have the right to. We are a free and independent country." "Pretty soon someone is probably going to say there's an atomic bomb on the tip of it," he joked. 

A few recent headlines from the emerging world of drone politics:

Christof Heyns, the U.N.’s independent investigator on extrajudicial killings, says he is not satisfied after meeting with U.S. officials in Geneva to discuss the legal framework — or lack thereof — for U.S. drone strikes. "I don’t think we have the full answer to the legal framework, we certainly don’t have the answer to the accountability issues," he told reporters. Heyns said that he worried U.S. drone use without firm legal backing would " creates precedents around the world."

One country that may take advantage of that precedent is Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez last week acknowledged reports that his government is building its own drones with help from "China, Russia, Iran, and other allied countries…. Of course we’re doing it, and we have the right to. We are a free and independent country." "Pretty soon someone is probably going to say there’s an atomic bomb on the tip of it," he joked. 

Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern Command, said the drones were likely for surveillance purposes and "internal defense."

While still limited, there are increasing worries that drones could be used for "internal defense" purposes in the United States as well: 

Jeff Landry, a freshman Republican congressman from Louisiana’s coastal bayou country, says constituents have stopped him while shopping at Walmart to talk about their concerns. "There is a distrust amongst the people who have come and discussed this issue with me about our government," Landry said. "It’s raising an alarm with the American public."

Fear that some drones may be armed, for example, has been fueled in part by a county sheriff’s office in Texas that used a homeland security grant to buy a $300,000, 50-pound ShadowHawk helicopter drone for its SWAT team. The drone can be equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun.

Randy McDaniel, chief deputy with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, told The Associated Press earlier this year his office had no plans to arm the drone, but he left open the possibility the agency might decide to adapt the drone to fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

Earlier this year Congress, under pressure from the Defence Department and drone manufacturers, ordered the FAA to give drones greater access to civilian airspace by 2015. Besides the military, the mandate applies to drones operated by private companies or individuals and civilian government agencies, including federal, state and local law enforcement.

However, these concerned shoppers will be glad to know that reports of the EPA using drones to spy on Midwestern cattle farms to check on improper manure handling — which spread throughout the blogosphere and were even discussed by some members of Congress — are apparently false

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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