If a drone comes too close, swat it with a shovel

Forrest Johnson

The drone was following me closely. Too closely. It’s not the first time. They’re getting to be like mosquitoes. Hovering about the town checking on the miscreants and then heading up to the border to see what’s going on.

Used to be that all you had to worry about were people with a deft wrist lifting up the phone and listening in on the party line of the telephone. Grandma Olson across the lake was the snoop in our neighborhood. Long ago my when my brother was 14 he took the car, with my permission, and rolled it on a gravel road. He stumbled from the scene of the accident and made his way to the country store, bloodied and alive but worried that our mother was going to kill him since the accident didn’t.

He went in the side door, past the old men playing cards and sipping Hamm’s beer back by the minnows and asked Sam the grocer if he could use the phone. I heard our ring, three shorts, and got to it first. In minutes I was headed across the lake, then cut across a pasture and down the road toward the store. I was perhaps a half mile into my walk when a car pulled up, full of Olsons.

“Hop in,” said George, the father. “We know what happened.”

As I climbed into the front seat between several of the Olson sons I noticed Grandma Olson tucked in between granddaughters and an aunt.

The snoop.

Now everybody can be a snoop. A remote-controlled airplane and a robotics kit and you can be in the surveillance business, buzzing around and getting into personal space at will. Oh sure, the promoters of such technologies always point out the benefits such as search and rescue missions, fighting crime and blowing up unwanted terrorists. Apparently, making our neighborhoods safer with eye-in-the-sky high resolution cameras potentially watching our every move is good for society.

Who started all of this intrusive monkey business? What floors me is that people have accepted the building lack of privacy as if it were natural law, just another change in the environment, no big deal, life goes on.

The internet, Facebook, Twitter, et all, may have already marched us like cows into that odd future world where we happily give up our privacy just so we can feed our online addictions.

For me the wariness of this Brave New World began when I happened to take a look at Google Maps just to see where my house was. I’ve always been interested in maps. But a map is a map, an overview of a landscape, contour lines and no people, just an environment of natural features and dots for cities. Google Maps are a whole other reality, a photograph from space, a moment frozen in time as a satellite passed overhead. I was assisted by an able pal who understood such online maneuvering and we zoomed closer and closer toward the planet, the country, the state, the county, the city, the street. There was our yard, my garden. There was my sauna. There was a figure behind the sauna. I couldn’t quite tell who it was but I think it was me taking a leak right in my usual spot.

Big Brother has arrived. Police don’t need a warrant to observe a private property from public airspace. Private personal data has been mined and emails and phone calls scrutinized. Security cameras have been watching us for years. Privacy was eliminated long ago right in front of our eyes. Nobody seems to care even though a majority of Americans across the ideological spectrum peep that they are concerned about a lack of privacy. But that’s about as far as the concern goes.

You don’t think these things can fly around like a bird, directed by some snoop watching a video screen and operating a joystick? There are now 146 models available and an industry trade group called Unmanned Vehicle Systems International is out there to gush about the benefits to mankind. One drone can fit in the palm of your hand and land on a window ledge.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union drones may “profoundly change the character of public life,” ushering in an era in which Americans could be monitored every time they step outside.

Big Brother is watching. And we don’t seem to care in the least.

All I can say is that if a drone comes close, too close, grab a shovel and swat it.