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GUEST COLUMN: Drones fly over Wyoming

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 19th, 2013

Drones have arrived in Wyoming. Yes, unmanned aerial vehicles, used for several years to kill terrorists in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and which the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports are notorious for their ability to kill nearby innocents, including children, are soaring in Wyoming skies.

Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration released a drone authorization list, thanks to a lawsuit from the watchdog organization Electronic Frontier Foundation. This list reveals 81 different government entities that have applied for FAA permission to use drones.

Though this list only reveals institutions that applied for FAA permission through October, one of the applicant groups already operates drones in Wyoming. According to the EFF, the U.S. Department of Energy received permission to use a SiCX-12 Mongoose helicopter drone at the Rocky Mountain Oil Field Testing Center, near Casper. The stated purpose is to collect data for “fugitive methane emissions,” “fugitive carbon emissions,” atmospheric sampling and research and development.

Some nearby states have programs with a more overtly sinister tone. Law enforcement agencies in Utah, Idaho, Colorado and North Dakota have all applied for permission to use drones. While some of these applications have been denied, others like the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado are active now, according to EFF reports. North Dakota even has the dubious distinction of being the first state in the U.S. with a recorded arrest assisted by a drone.

While the drones for law enforcement agencies exist primarily for surveillance and reconnaissance, many civil rights groups have noted that the use of drones can severely infringe privacy and other civil liberties. The ACLU noted that it may be easier to spy on people with drones and then get a warrant later, or not even bother with a warrant at all. Law enforcement in La Plata, Md., used a drone to patrol around town and look for troublemakers at a motorcycle rally, while police in Gaston County, N.C., even used a surveillance drone without FAA permission.

On top of everything else, this FAA information release coincides with the Department of Justice releasing its explanation of when it is acceptable to execute American citizens with drones. This killing can come without any due process or trial and has already been used on multiple American citizens, including Anwar Awlaki, an American citizen killed in Yemen in September 2011. His 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed a couple of weeks later in a similar strike.

While Awlaki the elder had known terrorist connections, the Department of Justice’s infamous “white paper” does not reserve this power to kill American citizens just in other nations, and the rationale for executing Americans is quite broad. And on Feb. 10, MSN reported that the most recent prey of drones was located on American soil. Christopher Dorner, the alleged killer of three members of the Los Angeles Police Department last week, died in a fire under strange circumstances on the night of Feb. 12. Reports indicate that drones were likely used in the effort to hunt him down.

While drones are only now coming into use in Wyoming, citizens in other states are taking a stand against these craft. The city of Charlottesville, Va., has banned the use of drones. A few architects are putting thought into drone-proof communities, and some online activists have even published information on how to kill drones.

Perhaps Wyoming could learn from such fine examples.

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