Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has learned another key lesson of the “age of sound bytes.” During an appearance on Neil Cavuto’s Fox Business Network show, Paul pointed out he didn’t mind using drones or any kind of technology against an “imminent threat,” whether it was a terrorist or “someone coming out of a liquor store with a weapon and 50 dollars in cash.” He also said it didn’t matter if it was a cop or a drone who killed the criminal. To fans of his father, ex-Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the reaction was fast and it wasn’t pretty.
Rand Paul was called someone who was “bullsh—tting,” a “politician” (which he is), someone who supported “the militarizing of police” and someone who needed to get away from neoconservatives because they were “rotting your brain.” Even Matt Drudge threw up the clever headline, “RAND LEARNS TO LOVE THE DRONE!”
However, people are ignoring the second half of his quote. Paul specifically said it was different if a drone wanted to go over someone’s hot tub or yard just to look at you. Even when Cavuto asked what if police were searching for a criminal and accidentally found something “bad,” Paul didn’t budge. He said no one should be looking into someone’s backyard and didn’t want surveillance when there wasn’t “probable cause.” Paul made it very clear police must have a warrant to use a drone, unless there was a “killer on the loose” or someone “running around with a gun.”
This is very similar to what he said during his 13 hour filibuster and the comments he made afterward. It’s also part of the no domestic drone strike legislation he and Texas Senator Ted Cruz co-sponsored. Drones can only be used on “dangerous criminals” and people who poses an “imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury” to another person. So Paul is being consistent.
There are still problems with how Paul worded what he said. The definition of a “dangerous criminal” may mean someone like the Boston terrorists, who engaged in an active shootout with police. But, as Paul pointed out in his filibuster, the Fusion Center of Missouri considers “dangerous criminals” as people who have pro-life bumper stickers, people who may want more border security, support third party candidates or might be in the Constitution Party. Unless the “dangerous criminal” terminology is strictly defined, the use of drones by governments on American soil could end up being as slippery of a slope as warrant-less wiretapping. Even with the strictest of definitions, it may not be worth it, despite how awesome the technology is.
By making broad comments on an issue, Paul giving potential political enemies more ammunition against him. It also disappoints his supporters and those who consider him a “political hero.” Plus, the liquor store example is a bad example, which Paul realized. He made it clear in a statement he released Tuesday. After all, hindsight is 20-20.
There may be ways to figure out how people in the private sector (i.e. farmers) could use drones, without raising questions about privacy. Drone countermeasures are already being developed and sold to those who can afford it. That may be the ultimate solution.
But in the end, Lucius Fox may have it right when he raised questions about technology Bruce Wayne developed in The Dark Knight. Even when it was obvious Batman could use a city-wide tracking device to find the Joker, Fox said, “No one should have it,” because the tracker could be abused.
It may be time for us to listen to Lucius Fox on drones. Cool technology, but not worth using.