Drone Ops to soon invade your airspace and change the meaning of privacy in America

Drone Ops to soon invade your airspace and change the meaning of privacy in America: UAVs, the FAA and you

by Russ Imrie 2012 – (and please take part in the poll on the last page)

Update: August 23, 2012 – From NYT Do smart/autonomous killing machines have a need to obey ethical/moral commands before killing a human being?

Update: November 25, 2012 – November 21 from philly.com , an animal rights activist group’s video camera-equipped drone hovering over a pigeon hunt was shot down. (embedded YouTube vid on that page AND embedded below.

Main subtopics: Drone background. The drone as a tool and as problem, Some suggestions, conclusions and some references, poll; for the now-established timeline of the FAA Domestic Drone rules process look here – basically it will all be done by December 14, 2015. By May 14, 2012 rules for domestic, small drones (4.4 pounds or less) and in use by police and first responders are to be issued.

New: Alyona show interviews Clyde Stafford Smith on the Drone Summit and the public conversation on the coming Drone world.

Drone background

What we think of when we say “drones”

NEW: A day after I posted this article, Wired posted an article on Virginia firm Mav6’s weaponized blimp offering for domestic surveillance.

Sunday April 22nd was Earth Day, the annual event that reminds us how small and fragile the planet is. Thanks to satellites and aerial observations, our geospatial knowledge of it has increased in quantity and quality. Sources of the big data sets gleaned from this overhead intelligence traditionally have been controlled by academia, governments, or the military. Today private space imagery companies offer rich satellite-acquired product to anyone who is in the market for it and GPS is universal. At lower elevations, unmanned government aircraft numbers are increasing quickly in sophistication and availability. Controversial military use of armed drones is almost a whole new arm for the Armed Forces and the State Department, that wants its own drone force. Algorithms now analyze the behavior of observed entities and the derived behavior “[death to whom it may concern] signatures” may be used to target with deadly force. These are the military “drones” that traditionally invite controversy and a dialogue on war, rights, and maybe warrantless government surveillance of citizens. Law enforcement and border patrol deployments are multiplying in the national airspace with DHS grants being dispersed for “benign” applications such as border security, natural disaster monitoring, climate/environmental analysis, and traffic control.

Old-school USGS satellite map brochure - photo Russ Imrie

Old-school USGS satellite map brochure – photo Russ Imrie

Everyone takes for granted detailed government or private-party overhead imagery of anyplace on the planet. While this has usually been acquired from thousands of feet up with some anonymity and accountability, it’s about to change.

My thoughts on this important development firmed up as I attended a series of forums in Washington DC through April and followed a swarm of “chatter,” much of it focused on CISPA and that was generated in other countries, like Canada.

I joined in diverse forums:

Brookings’ (The Coming Proliferation of Domestic Drones: What Will Be the Impact on Privacy, Safety and National Security 4/4)

Domestic Drone Discussion Panel l. to r. Kenneth Anderson, Catherine Crump, Benjamin Wittes (moderator), Paul Rosenzweig, John Villasenor - photo Russ Imrie

Brookings Institute: l. to r. Kenneth Anderson, Catherine Crump, Benjamin Wittes (moderator), Paul Rosenzweig, John Villasenor – photo Russ Imrie

“Catherine Crump, the ACLU report’s co-author and staff attorney with the Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, said the organization isn’t against the use of all domestic drones but rather wants to make privacy a central issue as the technology becomes more available.”

A panel member, called out in fun late in the agenda to another, “send a drone over my house and I’ll shoot it down.”

011: Card-Carrying

011: Card-Carrying (Photo credit: vociferous.)

The Woodrow Wilson Center (Integrating Official and Crowdsourced Crisis Information 4/9)

Sophia Liu, USGS researcher

Dr. Sophia Liu, USGS researcher – photo Russ Imrie

“However, as we increasingly have access to ever-growing streams of content online, how can crisis data from government agencies, satellite imagery companies, volunteer technical communities, disaster-affected populations, and the general public be integrated together to better facilitate emergency response, recovery, and mitigation efforts?” – Dr. Liu

Might we add “targeting?”

3 responses to “Drone Ops to soon invade your airspace and change the meaning of privacy in America

  1. Blue Devil is a game-changer with such dramatic cost savings that it creates LEMV and WAAPS capacity that has been previously cost prohibitive. He is absolutely right that a working Blue devil will be beyond the reach of small arms fire and safe from virtually any threat without a technically advanced air force i.e. China, Russia etc. . Like the TARS system along the US southern border, aerostats are already used primarily in uncontested airspace.

    With the recent FAA approval of domestic drone use over the USA, Homeland Security and local police utilizing FLIR enabled drones for day-to-day law enforcement (arresting cattle ranchers, etc) and conducting warrantless thermal/IR/sensor searches of private property, serious civil rights issues are raised by domestic use of wide-area-persistent-surveillance systems. The specter of Blue Devil class drone blimps utilizing military SIGINT and ARGUS technology over US cities is hardly far-fetched, as the migration of military tech towards police-tech is observable in the examples above, as well as in multiple other signs of military urbanism.

    In Utah, a police drone blimp has already conducted domestic surveillance with the specific intent of chilling the behavior of witnesses on the ground, with the mayor commenting on how “people behave differently when they know they are being watched.” A city volunteer who watches security feeds (not vetted law-enforcement) recently commented how the Sandy City, Utah urban surveillance camera network, which views over 25% of all public spaces, is intended to eliminate citizens “amnomimnity”. The volunteer went on to cheer as a local skater was arrested for sneaking a beer into a water bottle. Now local police will be using military iris scanners and face recognition technology to ID US citizens. Local police are already discussing armed drones.

    The idea of a gigantic spy blimp over the USA that never blinks and is capable of watching an entire city, recording it, rewinding video in order to trace individuals, track behavior and record the free movement of a democratic society, suggests a serious chilling effect to political speech, activism, protests and freedom of assembly in the United States. The ARGUS, GORGON STARE and ANGELFIRE systems, as well as Blue Devil and WAAPS systems in general, are extremely volatile tools that need to be kept strictly in a non-Homeland Security, non-domestic, non-police arena for exclusive use OUTSIDE the USA. These technologies turned towards domestic security or police actions are an existential threat to personal liberty and a democratic society.

    Long endurance persistent surveillance drones have no place over the USA. The experience thus far of any country to allow drones to operate in its airspace has been overwhelmingly negative. Surveillance drones quickly creep into becoming armed assault vehicles. How long before Blue Devil is carrying a Hellfire missile “just in case” or it just deploys Switchblade ram drones to “secure” uncooperative drivers during a police chase?

    Maybe this sort of mission creep wont happen…but then again, I didn’t think think 10 years ago when i first saw a cobra attack helicopter… that today a local cop would be flying a FLIR enabled hexacopter over my neighborhood to check my house’s thermal signature…without a warrant.

    Maybe having a gigantic EYE of Sauron staring down at the Shire wont stop the terror….in fact, maybe that’s why there is a growing insurgency in the first place?


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