The coming drone war
The news and media sites are full of commentary about the introduction of drones by both NZ police and military. Where are things at and what are the implications of this technology for state power and those who resist?
The police have purchased a Hawkeye UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that was developed in collaboration with the Defence Technology Agency (DTA). This drone has full video capability: ‘Full motion video acquisition is routine for this miniature UAV . Our primary sensor setups are configured for survey acquisition, but can be readily adapted to effect a standoff surveillance capability.’ It provides a live feed of what it is seeing to a person on the ground with a monitor.
Police have already used drones twice for operations in 2012. They have said to TV3 that the new drone is to be used for criminal investigations.
The NZ Defence Technology Agency has also been developing its own drone – the Kahu - for military purposes. This drone can fly for up to 2 hours and for a distance of 25km at altitudes of up to 16,500 feet. It, too, has a full video: ‘Able to carry a range of high performance still, motion video and FLIR camera sensors makes Kahu a highly versatile observation platform capable of multi role tasking in one efficient airframe package!’
The NZDF and the state have been quick to dismiss any notion that they will be equipped with ‘killer’ drones such as are used to murder people in Afghanistan. Instead, the rationale for the drones is always about patrolling NZ’s vast exclusive economic zone or stopping illegal fishing.
Growing state power
Drones are a technology that allows what was previously extremely difficult and expensive work (e.g. helicopter flights & aerial photography) to become easily achievable and dirt-cheap. The ability of police and the military to add drones to their arsenal of surveillance devices vastly expands their power because it makes what was previously not used due to financial constraints readily available. The cops might have been watching you by helicopter in the past (they are certainly widely used in the US) but it’s unlikely here simply because of the money involved.
The passage of the Search and Surveillance Bill into law in 2012 seems to have already created the legislative framework for the admission of drone surveillance as evidence. Section 65 of the Act outlines ‘Declaratory Orders’ that are a ruling by a judge as to the legality of using a particular type of technique or technology that is not specifically outlined in statute.
The cops are quick to refute any suggestion that they will be using drones illegally, or in the alternative, that ‘you don’t have anything to worry about if you aren’t doing anything wrong.’ For those of us who live in the real world, the fact is that the cops use illegal techniques every day of the year and have the material admitted as ‘reasonable’ under the Evidence Act in a criminal trial. We should not expect that drone surveillance will be any different.
As importantly, the entire notion of a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy,’ which is what the law says we should be entitled to have, will in fact be shifted by the very existence of this technology. In other words, at the moment we reasonably expect that our movements as we go about our day-to-day business are not being aerially monitored. However, in time, our expectations about that will change simply because drones are there whether we like it or not. As technology changes our view of what is ‘normal’ the very ground we stand on is being eroded underneath us.
Drones make war easier, more efficient.
As for the military, their rational is nothing short of propaganda. Surveillance drones like the Kahu have been used all over Afghanistan by Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) just like the NZDF. They have been used to gather information about people who are living under occupation, many of whom are called ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’ simply because they don’t like the US state. Obviously, the US has deployed a vast arsenal of armed drones to murder people.
The Defence Technology Agency is the key developer of the drone technology in use by both the cops and military. The DTA is in the business of developing war material. It is part of the Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP) along with the US, UK, Canada and Australia and works intimately with the people overseas developing new ways of waging war and industry war profiteers.
In the US, the lead TTCP agency is the Department of Defence’s Research and Engineering Enterprise. This agency boasts that it is ‘Developing technology to advance the Warfighter’. Indeed they are. The agency is involved in the development of war robots that can wage war autonomously and using artificial intelligence so that real people are no longer necessary – well, no longer necessary for the US military to be able to kill other people.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has documented the US military’s use of drones within the US and without the legal right to fly.
There is a case currently being taken in US Federal court against the National Security agency (NSA) for a massive domestic surveillance operation on US citizens that has been running since 2001. While not conducted with drones, this surveillance illustrates that governments are conducting massive societal surveillance in part because they can – they have the technology to do so. Drones will increase that capability. The NSA is the ‘sister’ organisation to the NZ Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB) that was illegally spying on Kim Dotcom.
The NZDF and its cheerleaders are very good at maintaining the image of the NZDF as a bunch of harmless do-gooders who can do no wrong and act selflessly for the betterment of humanity. Unfortunately, the NZDF’s role in Afghanistan has been to support the US mission unequivocally including taking prisoners to hand over for torture. We should not be so naïve as to imagine that the NZDF’s use of drones is for humanitarian purposes.
The implications of the expanded use of drones are perhaps obvious – the ability of the state to gather mass information about mass numbers of people and their physical movements. You can imagine – Interpol tracking the Sea Shepherd, the NZ police tracking a group of animal rights protestors, the entire city of Auckland under the watchful eyes of a Minister of Surveillance.
For those resisting the system this should not paralyze us into inaction. Knowledge is power – and knowing what kinds of capabilities drones have is a good place to start. Educating ourselves and those around us is the first step – and organizing to blast these out of the sky is the next.