Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 5, 2013

Editorial: NMC can play key role in drone debate


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Northwestern Michigan College students and instructors in the college’s specialized drone program have an opportunity few of us ever get — to help direct and influence the debate about an emerging technology that holds great promise - for good and bad.

NMC’s specialized drone program is the only one in Michigan that offers operational instruction of drones. Students and instructors alike recently voiced frustration that a lot of the conversation about the future use of drones in the United States is tied to the armed Predator drones used in Afghanistan and questions raised by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who recently pressed President Barack Obama for an answer on whether drones can be used to kill Americans on foreign soil.

Closer to home StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— and reality StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— are concerns from civil libertarians who worry that drones will spy on Americans in dozens of ways. A newly developed mosquito drone can perch on someone’s neck and record conversations.

While such uses may seem far-fetched, the wider point is that as any technology improves, so do its applications - including ones the public may find troubling. People who know the issue StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— like those running NMC’s program - need to be involved in these early conversations to talk about the good and warn against the bad. NMC could help lead the conversation about the ethical use of the new technology and how to enact meaningful controls.

Drones have dozens of peaceful applications for agriculture alone; they can also be used to find lost boaters, monitor pipelines and oil rigs, inspect railroads and power lines, map areas of drought and much, much more.

But concerns dominate. A Michigan lawmaker has proposed a bill that would ban the arming of drones (should the sheriff have access to Hellfire missiles?) and allow the use of drones only with a search warrant or in the event of imminent danger StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— much like the laws that emerged to regulate high-tech eavesdropping technology.

Without a robust national debate, however, the future of drones in America will almost certainly be left to drone industry lobbyists and the lawmakers they can influence. And that’s a prescription for bad law. The industry’s 24/7/365 job will be to introduce drones into as many aspects of day-to-day life as possible to maximize profits

Ethical issues will be left to the rest of us StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— and individuals in programs like NMC’s. They’re on the front lines and they need to lead.