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Rise of the drones

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Drones will soon fill our skies. They conjure up fears, especially among some fellow libertarians, of spying and death from above.

These fears aren't groundless. President Bush approved use of armed drones against suspected terrorists overseas. President Obama vastly increased their use.

So far, America has killed with drones only outside America. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., famously filibustered Obama's nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, demanding clarification on policy regarding domestic use of lethal drones. Finally, the attorney general responded, “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no.”

Good for Sen. Paul. Technology itself is not evil, but what government does with it should be determined by clear rules.

The next controversy will center on “civilian” drones. Researching a documentary, “Policing America,” I was surprised to learn I could buy a “personal” drone for only $500. For another $700, my TV staff added a camera to it. Soon, most everyone might have one. Drone prices have dropped sharply.

Our too-big government will try to quash this innovation. The Wall Street Journal recently quoted a bureaucrat who said, “The incremental approach is essential.”

So the Federal Aviation Administration sends “cease and desist” orders to restaurants that use drones to deliver food, real estate agents who use them to show off houses, moviemakers and journalists who use drones to get aerial footage of disasters, protests, celebrity weddings, etc.

“Commercial use” is illegal, says government (regulators don't like business). Fortunately, some entrepreneurs ignore the restrictions. It's great when people practice civil disobedience against idiot regulators. The FAA is right to worry about air safety, but that can be handled less intrusively with rules that ban drones near airports.

Of course, private drone use can get creepy. A woman in Connecticut, angry about being spied upon at a beach, recently attacked a drone operator. America already has “peeping Tom” laws. State courts will work this stuff out.

As usual, the market will probably produce the best solutions. Spotting unwelcome intrusions will get trickier as drones become smaller and quieter. But detection technology will improve. That constant feedback and competition is how all technology advances.

If government will just relax its regulatory chokehold, private citizens will find safe ways to deliver food, rescue lost cats and fill the skies with happy new possibilities.

John Stossel is host of “Stossel” on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of “No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed.”

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