For the past few weeks, I have been writing in this column about the government's use of drones and challenging their constitutionality on Fox News Channel where I work. I once asked on air what Thomas Jefferson would have done if -- had drones existed at the time -- King George III had sent drones to peer inside the bedroom windows of Monticello. I suspect that Jefferson and his household would have trained their muskets on the drones and taken them down. I offer this historical anachronism as a hypothetical only, not as one who is urging the use of violence against the government.
Nevertheless, what Jeffersonians are among us today? When drones take pictures of us on our private property and in our homes, and the government uses the photos as it wishes, what will we do about it? Jefferson understood that when the government assaults our privacy and dignity, it is the moral equivalent of violence against us. The folks who hear about this, who either laugh or groan, cannot find it humorous or boring that their every move will be monitored and photographed by the government.
Don't believe me that this is coming? The photos that the drones will take may be retained and used or even distributed to others in the government so long as the "recipient is reasonably perceived to have a specific, lawful governmental function" in requiring them. And for the first time since the Civil War, the federal government will deploy military personnel inside the United States and publicly acknowledge that it is deploying them "to collect information about U.S. persons."
It gets worse. If the military personnel see something of interest from a drone, they may apply to a military judge or "military commander" for permission to conduct a physical search of the private property that intrigues them. And, any "incidentally acquired information" can be retained or turned over to local law enforcement. What's next? Prosecutions before military tribunals in the U.S.?
The quoted phrases above are extracted from a now-public 30-page memorandum issued by President Obama's Secretary of the Air Force on April 23, 2012. The purpose of the memorandum is stated as "balancing ... obtaining intelligence information ... and protecting individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution..." Note the primacy of intelligence gathering over freedom protection, and note the peculiar use of the word "balancing."