SkyNet is now active — but it has not yet become self-aware. For those not familiar with the science fiction lore in the Terminator movie series, “SkyNet” refers to the interconnected system of computers designed to defend us — until the machines decide man is a threat — and decide to attack.
Look — up in the sky. It’s not a bird. It’s not a plane. It’s a heavily-armed, unmanned, law enforcement drone prepared to deliver an incapacitating jolt of up to 80,000 volts of electricity. Clearly, there’s no potential for abuse by some trigger-happy cop with a new toy, right? Weaponized aerial drones may seem like a futuristic vision of some post-Apocalyptic landscape, but North Dakota’s House Bill 1328 made them legal.
What’s disturbing, was the original intent of this legislation was only designed to require the Sheriff’s Department and other agencies to apply for a warrant prior to the use of aerial drones in any criminal investigation. In other words, when HB-1328 was drafted, it sought to protect the Constitutional rights of the citizens.
Enter the political lobbyists — or more specifically — Bruce Burkett of North Dakota’s Peace Officer’s Association, who amended the original legislation to allow “less than lethal” weapons on-board, such as rubber bullets, bean bags, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers. The Daily Beast quotes Republican Rick Becker, the original sponsor of the legislation as saying “In my opinion, there should be a nice, red line: drones should not be weaponized. Period.”
Meanwhile, Sheriffs in the state are opposed to the passage of HB-1328 — but not because they don’t believe a squadron of armed drones — weaponized to incapacitate criminals or break up a riot — might just come in handy someday. No, no, no — they’re upset because they don’t feel they should be required to obtain a warrant to use UAVs to spy on citizens. When talking to lawmakers and the press, police swear any warrantless drone flights would only be to monitor traffic — or find missing children. Pinky swear!
Sheriffs weren’t the only ones who opposed HB-1328. Drones are a growth industry in North Dakota, now that the oil’s gone bust. Keith Lund of the Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Corporation said “It’s really all about the commercial development” […] (If HB-1328) “is somehow limiting commercial, law enforcement development — that is a negative in terms of companies looking and investing in opportunities in the state of North Dakota.” Wait, what?
Lawmakers scoffed at the notion that “requiring a search warrant for surveillance” was somehow damaging to North Dakota’s business climate. For now, most of the drones over America’s skies remain armed only with cameras. But what if we find ourselves facing a day when “human decisions are removed from strategic defense [and] Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate”? Remain vigilant, citizens.