Drones Manufacturers Set Their Sights on Non-Military Surveillance

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non military surveillance
Credit: http://www.alaskadispatch.com/

After the historic filibuster by Senator Rand Paul, the issue concerning the use of drones to target U.S. citizens on American soil will be fresh in people’s minds for a while. However, a much less discussed issue was also mentioned by Senator Paul: the use of drones for non-military surveillance. Tweet at @SenRandPaul:

In February 2012, Congress included a mandate in the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) reauthorization bill, giving the agency three years to integrate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) — or drones — in the National Air Space (NAS). As the FAA is already in charge of the safety of the country’s entire airspace, it has until 2015 to test all aspects of adding non-military surveillance drones in the country’s already crowded sky.

Since the issue of privacy is already well know and under discussion in numerous states, more practical questions will arise when an estimated 10,000 drones occupy U.S. airspace in the next 5 years: Tweet it:

What would happen if a drones loses communication with its ground operator? What preventative measures will be in place in the event someone hijacks a drone for malicious intentions? What steps will be taken to avoid mid-air collisions between small UAVs and planes or other UAVs? Will a license be required to become a drone pilot?

The FAA is already allowing temporary and experimental use of UAVs by public agencies and civil operators — mostly drone manufacturers. These legal uses are contingent on obtaining a license from the FAA and must be performed outside densely-populated areas.

Since January 2007, the FAA has issued 1,428 licences with 327 still active as of February 2013. Share this stat:

non military surveillance
Map of Domestic Drone Authorizations. Credit: EFF.org

On February 14, the FAA started the process of selecting six sites across the country where the the agency expects “to learn how unmanned aircraft systems operate in different environments and how they will impact air traffic operations.”

The operators of these sites, most likely state or local governments, will have to make sure that in the course of their operations, they respect a set of privacy principles that are at the core of many federal and state statutes. The privacy issue surrounding the pilot program is currently open to comments from the public.

December 2015 is the fixed deadline for the agency to come up with a comprehensive plan for integrating government and non-government UAVs into U.S. airspace. Between now and then, many factors will influence the future framework surrounding the non-military use of UAVs. Tweet it:

Drones manufacturers have already begun promoting the positives aspects of UAVs to the general public and the useful, non law-enforcement related tasks they can perform. With a domestic market that could reach $90 billion and create thousands of jobs around the country at stake, the drone industry has also spent millions in lobbying activities in D.C. and in states legislatures.

State regulations will be an important factor in shaping the future of UAV use. The Virginia legislature was the first to regulate UAVs by enacting a two and a half year moratorium on law enforcement use.

Many other states, including Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, and Maine, are also considering similar regulations.

If the issue of the lethal use of drones by the current administration against U.S. citizens is an easy one to rally against, the broader integration of UAVs in the daily lives of Americans is a more complicated discussion that needs to be addressed before it’s too late.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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  1. Sam Kephart For national security purposes, Americans are already subject to warrantless wiretaps of calls and emails, the warrantless GPS “tagging” of their vehicles, the domestic use of Predators or other spy-in-the-sky drones, and the Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of all our behavior through “data fusion centers.” http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/ Given this toxic mash-up of losses of privacy, if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then domestic drones are a superhighway to an Orwellian panoptic gulag. America’s promise has always been the power of the many to rule, instead of the one. Ungoverned drone usage, particularly domestically, gives power to the one. Domestic drone usage is ill-conceived, elitist, and end-runs our inherent Constitutional protections. Here are two (2) different videos that anchor my points: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssoOASanKao http://vimeo.com/59689349
  2. Chad Peace The use of drones is such a major and undiscussed issue. We have to have a renewed respect for privacy, or it will be a thing of the past.
  3. Edward Bonnette This feels like something that is going to happen whether people like it or not. Drones will be in the sky all over soon, and I agree that legislatures need to start setting down the rules now. Not just police, but also individuals in fields like paparazzi will be jumping at the use of these. There are, however, many good applications of drone use that should not be forgotten or swept under the rug by potential parades of terribles that will likely be made more and more public as people try to fight the use of drones all together.
  4. Michael Higham I had the same thought. In the big pictures, I feel that it's hard for society to resist technological advances and that's it's a matter of time before drones are used widely. It's the right time for lawmakers to lay down rules, like you said. That's what Virginia will be doing (awaiting their Gov. signature), placing a moratorium to develop solid regulations.
  5. Alex Gauthier That's a good point lucas. Lethal use of drones is an easy target, but the privacy aspect is much less glamorous
5 comments
Sam Kephart
Sam Kephart

For national security purposes, Americans are already subject to warrantless wiretaps of calls and emails, the warrantless GPS “tagging” of their vehicles, the domestic use of Predators or other spy-in-the-sky drones, and the Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of all our behavior through “data fusion centers.”

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/

Given this toxic mash-up of losses of privacy, if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then domestic drones are a superhighway to an Orwellian panoptic gulag.

America’s promise has always been the power of the many to rule, instead of the one.

Ungoverned drone usage, particularly domestically, gives power to the one.

Domestic drone usage is ill-conceived, elitist, and end-runs our inherent Constitutional protections.

Here are two (2) different videos that anchor my points:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssoOASanKao

http://vimeo.com/59689349

Chad Peace
Chad Peace

The use of drones is such a major and undiscussed issue. We have to have a renewed respect for privacy, or it will be a thing of the past.

Edward Bonnette
Edward Bonnette

This feels like something that is going to happen whether people like it or not. Drones will be in the sky all over soon, and I agree that legislatures need to start setting down the rules now. Not just police, but also individuals in fields like paparazzi will be jumping at the use of these. There are, however, many good applications of drone use that should not be forgotten or swept under the rug by potential parades of terribles that will likely be made more and more public as people try to fight the use of drones all together.

Alex Gauthier
Alex Gauthier

That's a good point lucas. Lethal use of drones is an easy target, but the privacy aspect is much less glamorous

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

I had the same thought. In the big pictures, I feel that it's hard for society to resist technological advances and that's it's a matter of time before drones are used widely. It's the right time for lawmakers to lay down rules, like you said. That's what Virginia will be doing (awaiting their Gov. signature), placing a moratorium to develop solid regulations.