POSTED ON JANUARY 23, 2013:
Not All Jobs Are Good Jobs
Be skeptical of an Oklahoma drone industry
Whatever is good for business is good for Oklahoma. Or so goes the common refrain in our fair state.
Think about it: Almost any announcement of new jobs elicits Second Coming headlines in the daily press. Trumpets sound. The fatted calf is slain.
And so it was recently when Gov. Fallin helped draw attention to a new study that forecasts Oklahoma could gain nearly 600 new jobs once drones are approved for use in domestic airspace.
The state's largest paper, The Oklahoman, considered it page one news: "Drones could add more jobs in state, officials say." The World crowed: "Drone systems heralded as job creator for state."
You may not know this, but state leaders would love for Oklahoma to become the drone capital of the world, believing it dovetails nicely with efforts to expand the aerospace industry here.
We already have a leg up on the competition: Oklahoma was the first state chosen as a test site for small, unmanned aircraft systems, now buzzing around Fort Sill and Elgin.
We don't know precisely what all the jobs would entail, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to surmise they would be higher-tech and better-paying than call center jobs that all-too-often are subjects of Oklahoma's job-creation efforts.
What's not to like?
Well ... let's just say that not all jobs are created equal. Rather than just knee-jerk celebrate job creation, we should consider whether these are really the kinds of industries we want.
There isn't much conversation, so far as I can tell, about America's increasing reliance on drones -- both foreign and domestic. But there should be.
Second Amendment devotees are railing around-the-clock about President Obama's gun control proposals, wailing nonstop about a tyrannical federal government unleashed in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting.
Those forever on the lookout for examples of government overreach, of civil liberties in danger, ought to be looking more closely at unmanned aircraft systems.
It's bad enough what's being done on our behalf overseas.
According to a recent report in the British daily, The Guardian, the U.S. "use of drones has soared during Obama's time in office, with the White House authorizing attacks in at least four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
"It is estimated at the CIA and the U.S. military have undertaken more than 300 drone strikes and killed about 2,500 people."
As a civil libertarian who believes strongly in the rule of law, however, it is deeply troubling that my elected leaders can in effect serve as prosecutor, judge, and executioner -- even of American citizens operating in foreign lands -- without due process.
Moreover, our federal government is working overtime to keep us from knowing the particulars of the program, including when it involves targeting U.S. citizens for execution -- such as was the case with Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, killed in separate strikes in 2011 in Yemen.
Many, no doubt, would argue the U.S. is simply deploying drones in war zones where it targets war on terror combatants. Death by drone, death by airstrike or artillery shell ... what's the difference?
Moreover, there is a serious case to be made that pilotless aircraft save American lives -- we can carry out some of war's dirtiest work, targeting and eliminating the enemy, without putting our troops in harm's way.
According to research by one of Obama's former security advisers, Michael Boyle, the administration has loosened standards for when and where to deploy drones and is understating the number of civilian deaths attributable to the pilotless strikes.
"The consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill noncombatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur," Boyle is quoted by The Guardian as saying. "No one really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands."
What is particularly worrisome is that the technology could be turning current or potential allies -- at the street, not government level -- into enemies, without serious concern about the long-term consequences.
It's hard to believe more people aren't mortified at the notion that a president, regardless of party, or a handful of national security types could -- without political consequences or pushback -- establish an "enemies list," targets for remote control assassination.
What's even more difficult to imagine is that Americans, in general, and Oklahomans, in particular, aren't more concerned about the potential abuse of the unmanned aircraft when the Federal Administration finalizes plans to integrate their use into U.S. airspace.
Oh, sure, there are obvious common sense usages: searching for missing children in remote terrain or assisting emergency personnel in fighting wildfires. But it's also easy to imagine power-hungry government officials using the surveillance capability as a means of monitoring political enemies or dissenters.
It's a concern that has united one of the state's most conservative lawmakers, Okla. Rep. Paul Wesselhoft (R-Moore), and what is often viewed as one of the most liberal organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union.
Working with Ryan Kiesel, the ACLU's executive director in Oklahoma, Wesselhoft has introduced two bills this session aimed at protecting individual privacy and civil liberties.
One would set parameters for government use of domestic surveillance via drones, the other would establish limits on cell phone tracking.
"Before you get to that point where you're talking about the legitimate uses for drones, I think we should establish some ground rules from outset to protect privacy of Oklahomans," says Kiesel, himself a former state lawmaker.
"It's going to be much better in the long run to have that conversation now and set those ground rules for privacy now, rather than when the drone industry fully matures and it'll be much harder to roll operations back to comport with privacy concerns.
"If we don't do this this session, the drone lobby is going to partner up with the folks at the law enforcement lobby and we're not going to get anything done ever."
Which brings us back to the original question: Are these really the types of jobs we want in Oklahoma? Do we really want to hitch our reputations to something that already is so controversial overseas and that could lead to Big Brother snooping more broadly and routinely than in J. Edgar Hoover's wildest dreams?
The fact is, drones are here to stay. They're already being deployed overseas and smaller versions are being tested in our state. Oklahoma State University even has an unmanned aerial degree program.
So the real question is, how do we manage the technology? Do we leave it in the hands of a few government leaders, trusting it will be used judiciously and legally? Or do we demand strict standards that ensure the rule of law prevails and individual liberties are protected?
The answer is obvious. And Wesselhoft's legislation is an excellent place to start.
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