In the wake of the 13‐hour filibuster of March 6 by Sen. Rand Paul, R‐Ky. — in which he used the word “drone” some 245 times — we’re starting to see pushback from the courts and Congress on the use of flying, spying robot weapons at home and abroad.
In an influential 2011 article, “The Drone as Privacy Catalyst,” law professor Ryan Calo predicted that the dystopian images that drones evoke could spur much‐needed reforms to American privacy law. Their association with military spying and targeted killing, the way they “represent the cold, technological embodiment of observation,” would provide the “visceral jolt” that reformers need to make their case.
That’s certainly happening on the home front. CNET’s Declan McCullagh reports that a bipartisan “anti‐drone revolt” has prompted the introduction of new federal and state legislation restricting “law enforcement plans to fly more drones equipped with high‐tech gear that can be used to conduct surveillance of Americans.” Professor Calo, who testified at Wednesday’s hearing, warned that “American privacy law places few limits on aerial surveillance” and urged Congress to “instruct the FAA to take privacy into account as part of its mandate to integrate drones into domestic airspace.”
The “visceral jolt” that Sen. Paul’s filibuster provided seems to be shifting the debate on the drone wars abroad, as well.
As Slate’s Dave Weigel observed yesterday, public opinion polls show “A 50‐Point Swing Against Targeted Drone Killings of U.S. Citizens” abroad since Sen. Paul’s anti‐drone marathon. Even erstwhile Obama allies are speaking out: Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently warned about “blowback” from perpetual remote‐controlled war. And on March 13, John Podesta, the former head of the Center for American Progress, took to the pages of the Washington Post to praise Sen. Paul’s filibuster and warn that with his secretive approach to drone warfare, “President Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days.”
Some say the filibuster is an obstructive anachronism. Sen. Paul’s marathon session earlier this month argues otherwise. With it, he started a national conversation about the use of drones at home and abroad that promises to go on much longer than 13 hours.