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Activists discuss upstate New York drone use during visit to Utica

Military drones piloted from Syracuse attack targets in Afghanistan. Griffis Airport in Rome has been tapped to test the safety of commercial drones. With little fanfare, upstate New York has become central to adaptation of unmanned aerial vehicles. Wednesday night, the controversy over drones came to Utica.

Longtime anti-war activists Ed Kinane and Ann Tiffany came to Utica College to argue against the growing use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or in layman’s terms, drones. Kinane equated military drone use with terrorism. He said drone strikes violate international law and breed contempt in those that are attacked.

"They incite hatred," Kinane said. "Such hatred may well lead to retaliatory strikes, either today, or when the victim survivors come of age."

Drones used in Afghanistan are controlled by remote pilots from the Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing, based at Hancock Airport in Syracuse. Kinane warned that could make Syracuse itself a target.

"Like it or not without our consent, upstate New York has become part of the battleground," Kinane said.

Ann Tiffany focused her comments more on the use of drones for commercial purposes. The Federal Aviation Administration recently announced the former Griffiss Air Base in Rome will be used to test the safety of integrating drones into the commercial airspace. That’s something Congress wants to see begin next year.

The testing could provide an economic boost to central New York, providing hundreds of jobs and making the region a hub for drone research. But Tiffany said drone deployment is moving faster than the feeling out process for how this all works on a legal and moral basis.

"And we haven’t caught up in terms of the ethical issues, the moral issues, the privacy issues, surveillance," Tiffany explained.

Tiffany told the audience that she doesn’t oppose drones all together, but called for legislation to protect people from government and corporate intrusion.

"We haven’t even discussed this, we haven’t looked at it," she said.

While the amassed crowd was largely anti-drone, there were some dissenting voices.

Why should we oppose use of drones in warfare?" one person said. "What exactly about drones is unethical?" asked another.

If nothing else, Kinane and Tiffany raised the profile for drone activity on the local level while also shedding light on national policy. Those in the crowd were left to make up their own minds about drones, but they were thinking about them.

Jon Kealy reported this story as part of the New York Reporting Project at Utica College. You can read more of the project's stories at their website, nyrp-uc.org.