Nov 222007

Are you ready for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by your local police? High-power cameras, ultra-sensitive microphones, infrared sensors, all of that good stuff? They’re for your safety and for the children, of course.

The Houston Police Department is all hard thinking about bringing them to you as soon as June of next year. Quoting from a story that exposed the secret test this week:

“I wasn’t ready to publicize this,” Executive Assistant Police Chief Martha Montalvo said. She and other department leaders hastily organized a news conference when they realized Local 2 Investigates had captured the entire event on camera.

“We still haven’t even decided how we were going to go forward on this task, so it seemed premature to me to announce this to the media,” Montalvo said. “But since, obviously, the media found out about it, then I don’t see any reason why just not go forward with what we have so far.”

Montalvo told reporters the unmanned aircraft would be used for “mobility” or traffic issues, evacuations during storms, homeland security, search and rescue, and also “tactical.” She admitted that could include covert police actions and she said she was not ruling out someday using the drones for writing traffic tickets.

Translation: All right, dammit, you guys blew the lid off our secret, so here’s as much of the deal as I’m willing to tell you.

And did you catch that word “tactical”? Nah, that’s not ominous. Worry not, comrad…uh, citizens. I mean, if you’re not breaking the law, why on earth would you feel any sort of anxiety about this? I loved this bit from the story, which I swear is a direct quote:

HPD leaders said they would address privacy and unlawful search questions later.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I suppose we’ll have to say something about all of those quaint little constitutional notions at some point. But don’t bug us now; we’re playing with our new toy.

As depressing as our accelerating slide toward totally public and meticulously recorded lives is, I did find something encouraging in this story: that it exists at all. This is genuine investigative journalism of the sort that is all but nonexistent anymore at the upper echelons of the mass media Borgs.

I still have hope. Maybe this is still over a lot of people’s lines. Maybe there will be outcry in Houston. Maybe people will march in the streets for something truly meaningful, for the first time in far too long.

Or maybe our numbness to it all has already reached critical mass. Because the other image I get is one of a dad reading the electronic paper in a not-too-distant future and mumbling, “Oh, look, honey, the new telescreens are in at Circuit City. You know we’re supposed to replace it every two years, and I missed the deadline for filing a waiver.”

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 Posted by at 10:06 am

  3 Responses to “If you’re not breaking the law, you have nothing to worry about. Really.”

  1. Shit like this scares the HELL out of me.

    I was teaching freshman English in a high school a couple of years back, doing a unit of Holocaust literature. We were talking about how something like that could come to be, and I mentioned warrentless wiretaps, which were just making big news. My students essentially said “what’s the big deal? They can listen to my conversations; I’VE got nothing to hide.”

    Yeah? Go watch Enemy of the State and get back to me….

  2. They’re numb to it. They’ve hardly ever gone ANYWHERE without being on camera, for one thing.

  3. […] now accustomed to being on camera everywhere we go.  Police departments are gearing up to use UAVs with barely a whimper of protest—certainly no protest commensurate with the offense.  […]

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