When most countries’ laws governing the privacy of citizens were drafted, decades or even centuries ago, the Founders had no way to imagine flying robots capable of spying on private citizens or even obliterating them with a missile strike launched from miles away. Yet this is the current reality we now inhabit, where battlefield skirmishes against a foreign enemy cross a very thin line meant to guard a country’s own citizens from similar treatment by their government.
Within the strict confines of law, drones currently reside in a very gray area, due to the relatively short time they have been utilized. Most countries’ systems of government are not set up to move particularly quickly, favoring deliberation of an issue over incisive and rapid action. Thus, laws governing the use of drones have not moved as quickly as the implementation of the drones themselves. Drone use is also subject to extreme secrecy, with countries claiming such information is a matter of national security and is therefore not open to public debate or even knowledge.
Yet such benefits could come with a wildly increased loss of basic privacy for the average citizen just trying to go about everyday life. Philosophical questions regarding the trading of liberty for security have fueled public discourse since the time of Benjamin Franklin. Security at the cost of privacy will always be a necessary trade-off, but just how far should citizens be willing to secede their rights to their own government?
The Nature of Future Battlefield Conflicts
Wars are expensive, and the high cost of human life becomes an unpopular issue for politicians to overcome back home. Drone use circumvents these two major negative points, allowing governments to engage in “off the books” conflicts that are essentially warlike actions without the negative baggage of actual war. Drone use becomes a convenient way for politicians to dodge pesky issues of engaging foreign nations in actual combat and the bad press that inevitably results. It is also far removed, sometimes literally, from the sort of hand-to-hand combat traditionally part of any aggressive engagement of an enemy. Because of its sterile killing style, drone use does not raise the sort of questions from a country’s own citizens that the floods of pictures featuring wounded women and children that are the collateral damage of “boots on the ground” warfare inevitably raise — but it should.