So which Napolitano should we listen to?
If the subject is unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, those robot planes looking down at us from the sky — they're commonly called drones — the American people need to decide how much of our civil liberties we're willing to sacrifice in order to gain the security UAVs offer us.
The U.S. has used surveillance drones since 2005 to patrol our borders. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said during a House of Representatives hearing July 25 that flying drones inside the United States, far from border areas, will become the government's next step in ensuing "public safety."
With the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, now preparing to allow drones to share the same airspace as commercial jets, Napolitano envisions a rapid growth of unmanned planes that will conduct surveillance not merely along our frontiers but everywhere inside America. Other government officials say even a very small pilotless aircraft will soon have the capability to loiter over a city for as long as four days and to monitor thousands of events simultaneously, feeding motion picture footage to ground stations in real time. The FAA predicts 30,000 drones will be in U.S. skies by 2020.
Privacy advocates are not happy.
That, of course, includes the American Civil Liberties Union — which, on this issue, has unlikely bedfellows.
Fox News commentator and retired Judge Andrew Napolitano came up with a unique solution to deter drones from prying into our lives. On television in May, Napolitano said, "The first American patriot that shoots down one of these drones that comes too close to his children in his backyard will be an American hero."
It's uncomfortable to be in agreement with the judge, who is a kind of loose cannon in his role as a voice for the far right. Moreover, no citizen-versus-drone scenario will ever be as simplistic as the judge suggests. Still, Napolitano may be on to something.
At my home in Oakton, I live just a couple of miles from headquarters of the National Rifle Association, a powerful advocate for gun owners, some of whom believe their right to keep and bear arms was written into the Bill of Rights to protect them from their own government.
Whenever government threatens to increase surveillance of our lives, someone is certain to say, "I haven't done anything wrong. Why should I care if anyone sees what I'm doing?" But when I'm in my backyard with my 65-pound talking Labrador retriever, Autumn, I don't want the Department of Homeland Security squinting at us via remote sensors.
However, I won't feel comfortable, either, if my neighbor reaches into his gun locker and begins blasting away. I don't care if he shoots down the government's plane. I'm worried he may hit my dog.
Security or freedom? Increased surveillance or restraints on government?
Because drones aren't going away and because threats to our liberty will never abate, I don't have any answers for this dilemma.
About me: I'm an Oakton resident, an author on military topics, and companion to Autumn, who is an unrelenting privacy advocate. I write about current military events and am uncertain what to expect in a future filled with pilotless planes. I also write military history: My latest book is "Mission to Berlin," a history of World War II bomber crews in Europe.