It’s now estimated that by the end of this decade, 60,000 – 70,000 drones operated by various federal and local governments will be flying over the United States on a regular basis. The opposition to this technological revolution fears these devices will invade citizen privacy, and that they might even be used for government assassinations the way they are used in some foreign countries.

What nonsense. Such privacy worries are silly. Assassination concerns are absurd. The real fear here should focus on the potential of drones as revenue enhancers.

About privacy. It’s rather late in the day to evoke this worry when it comes to drones. When Essau in the Bible sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of porridge, at least he got a good feed out of the deal. What have Americans gotten for their own privacy sell out?

The right to be charged almost 15 percent interest (the present credit card average starting rate) when they buy things with plastic, purchases that are meticulously tracked by marketeers? The right to surf the Internet, with every single click or pause tracked by Internet firms? The right to talk on cell phones while walking down the street that’s tracked by phone service suppliers? The right to drive a new car, vehicles that all now have black boxes installed that let others know where one’s been, if they haven’t already tracked you via your cell phone or other devices?

Why would a government agency need drones to invade the privacy that Americans as a people have so egregiously and foolishly traded away? All a government agency needs do is spend a few bucks with a data mining company to know more about you than any government agency in history.

Governments now have all the technical tools they need to track potential terrorists. All the weapons they need to kill bad guys who deserve to die. Far too many ways to invade privacy already. Drones will therefore serve another purpose. They will provide more of what governments really want.

They want your money.

Revenue enhancement techniques employed by governments, especially local governments, techniques that go beyond simple taxation, have an enormous, largely untapped potential. Drones are a natural instrument, a natural player, in this 21st century revenue enhancement.

Think of drones as flying red-light cameras and you’ll see their future. Unlike present red light cameras that are installed at just a few heavily trafficked locations, drones allow violations to be recorded for going through a red light, stopping in a crosswalk, making a right turn without making a full stop first, on every corner in an entire community. And then allow fines to be generated in a very cost effective manner.

And that’s just starters. Think of all the regulations on local government books, the minor infractions that could generate fines if only there were an economical way to get photographic proof who committed the infraction. There could then be countless fines for jay walking. Parking more than six inches from the curb, any curb. Drinking from a bottle not in a brown paper bag. Spitting. Littering. Not cleaning poop deposited by a dog. Leaving a garbage can with its top off on trash pick up days. Not shoveling your walk after a snowstorm. Not picking the leaves off the sidewalk in front of your house. The list goes on and on.

Drones can spot all such infractions, most of which were never enforced much less fined because it was too expensive for local governments to do so. Soon it will be both practical and cost effective.

And if you think that just because there’s no license plate that would identify a perp for such infractions as is the case with red light camera-like infractions generated by vehicles, that violators could therefore not be identified, think again. There’s software now that has faces collected from all sorts of places. Ball games, school graduations, political protests. at. al. A drone spots a littering violation, the face of the perp is linked to the violation, a computer matches it with a face on a drivers license or voter ID card, and a fine notice is in the mail.

The first time a red light infraction ticket is drone-spawned, or a littering infraction is drone-spawned, there will be public outrage, protests. These will be two-day news cycle events. Then drone-spawned ticketing will become just another rip off that’s accepted because it comes to seem natural, like paying to use an ATM machine or late fees on a credit card payment.

Besides, no new laws need go on the books to make this government revenue enhancement bonanza possible. There are already laws in place about jay walking, littering. et. al. Who could protest such long established laws, just because they are finally being enforced?  

Political tyranny was a 20th century thing. At least in the Western world. Monetary tyranny is what this century is getting to be all about. You already see this with banks that increasingly shape government policies to serve their own interests at everyone else’s expense. Banks don’t do this to cause pain. They just want your money.

Financially strapped governments are going the same way, and not because they want to steal your liberties. They don’t care what religion you practice, what you say, what you read, what you think, the guns you own. They, too, just want your money. 

That’s where the present is headed. That’s the future.

Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a flying $25 littering ticket generator.

(Michael Silverstein’s comic novel, The Bellman’s Revenge, about toilet seat-borne venereal disease and excessive parking ticketing, is available from Amazon. Also check out Kay Wood’s zany graphic novel about a methane threat that could destroy the earth, The Big Belch, now featured on Kickstarter.)

MICHAEL SILVERSTEIN, Wall Street Columnist
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Copyright 2013 The Moderate Voice
  • Yeah, that too! This use of domestic drones was my first thought. The idea that public surveillance somehow was a privacy violation was never a serious concern. What you do in the public domain isn’t much covered by privacy protection anyway.

    Still there is a bit of a “Stepford Wife” quality to making sure everyone acts exactly as they should all the time. There’s something to be said for illegally setting off a firecracker on New Year’s Eve without getting fined or ending up in the pokey.