A sleepy town in Colorado is considering a proposal to make itself the national hotspot for people protesting against government surveillance. Deer Trail’s tiny population of 550 will be voting on October 8 on whether or not to issue permits for drone hunting– this would attract gun enthusiasts from afar and increase revenues for the town.
ABC 7 News reports that the idea of hunting the federal’s government drones began as one man’s symbolic protest against a surveillance society. Phillip Steel, a traveling structural inspector, who did not favor the domestic spying efforts of the NSA, thought of the idea.
“These are not big drones you see on TV that look like airplanes. These are little 55-pound things that can come right down into your land,” he says. “Right now we don’t have drones flying in our skies. We want to keep it that way… If you don’t want your drone to go down, don’t fly in town.”
The town plans to issue drone hunting licenses without a background investigation, and on an anonymous basis. Applications will have to be filled out online, and applicants should be at least 21 years old and be able to read and understand English.
Those interested will have to dish out $25 for the licenses, valid for a year. In return, the town would offer a $100 bounty reward for shooters who bring in debris from an unmanned aircraft from the U.S. government. Steel says, “The license will “sell like hot cakes and it could be a huge money maker for the town.” Already, 150 people have signed up to buy the licenses.
Still, opinions regarding this scheme vary in Deer Trail, supposedly home to the world’s oldest rodeo. According to Harry Venter, editor of the weekly Tri-County Tribune, “the proposal sends the message that Deer Trail disapproves of the military, not domestic surveillance.” Carl Miron, the owner of the town’s only bar, says, “I don’t like the fact that the government can sit and spy on you.”
Government issues warning
What has the government got to say about the plan? The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates airspace, has already issued a strict warning: “Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane.” Steel retorts, “Is it illegal? Of course it is. But it’s also illegal to spy on American citizens.” However, he also adds, “In all practicality, nobody is going to shoot down any drones any time soon.”
States are exploring ways to address privacy issues raised by drone critics. Many legislatures are proposing that police get warrants before using drones to place people under surveillance.
Such measures are necessary as drones gain popularity. According to industry predictions, drone sales will increase exponentially as more countries embrace their use. Israel is a major exporter of drones and the year’s end might see the Middle East surpassing the U.S. in international drone sales.
On the other hand, the industry’s challenge to expand beyond defense was evident recently as more than a dozen demonstrators gathered outside a three-day drone exhibition at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, in Washington D.C., on August 13.