Persistent surveillance by aerial robots stirs up bi-partisan ruckus in Congress
By Tom Green
July 31, 2012
Drone revenue set to nearly double
USA Today reported: “The backlash has drone makers concerned. The drone market is expected to nearly double over the next 10 years, from current worldwide expenditures of nearly $6 billion annually to more than $11 billion, with police departments accounting for a significant part of that growth.
“We go into this with every expectation that the laws governing public safety and personal privacy will not be administered any differently for (drones) than they are for any other law enforcement tool,” said Dan Elwell, vice president of the Aerospace Industries Association.
On July 19, 2012, a House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management gaveled a hearing into session called “Using Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the Homeland: Security Game Changer?” The subcommittee listened to testimony from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) that ticked off an eye-opening list of potentially privacy invading systems that could be carried aboard domestic drones:
- Gigapixel cameras that are among the highest definition cameras available
- Real-time video streams at a rate of 10 frames a second
- Sensors that can track up to 65 different targets across a distance of 65 square miles
- Infrared cameras
- Heat sensors
- Movement sensors
- Automated license plate readers
- Facial recognition technology
- Radar that can see through walls
- Thermal imaging
- Wi-Fi network cracking
- Text message and cell phone interception
From a surveillance society to weaponizing domestic drones
Persistent surveillance with still photography, streaming video, x-ray devices and audio recording pale when the image of armed drones in the domestic airspace is conjured up.
Drones for law enforcement also have the capability of carrying a variety of weapons, including 12-gauge shotguns, grenade and tear gas launchers, and rubber-bullet guns.
Michael Buscher, CEO of Vanguard Defense Industries, said the focus for law enforcement agencies is"less lethal systems”. Drones could be armed with a gun that fires bean bags known as a “stun baton”, he told Officer.com.
Montgomery County Police Department was the first in Texas to receive a certificate of authorization to deploy drones from the FAA. Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said arming drones could save officers on the ground. “Impact rounds, chemical munitions rounds, or a Taser are things that law enforcement utilizes day in and day out,” McDaniel told The Daily. “It might be advantageous to have this type of a less lethal weapon platform on the UAV.”
There are probably more than a few states eyeing drones to employ for their highway patrols. Drones would certainly cut down on the need for patrol officers and reduce personnel safety issues. And a bad day for a speeder might well be to espy one with flashing lights in the rearview mirror, which, of course, then opens up yet another whole set of thorny legal issues.
Nine Justices may need to decide it all
Ultimately the use of drones will end up with the Supreme Court; it’s been over twenty-five years since California v. Ciraolo, and the Fourth Amendment will certainly need a revisit and freshening up going forward.
For now it is entirely possible to lunch at the Roosevelt Deli and not fear drone surveillance or feel the need to download the latest Drone Detector App to your cell. Then again, with 300 certificates of authorization already parceled out, there’s no telling who’s operating drones where and for what purpose.
Just to be on the safe side, check these lists for drones in your neighborhood:
FAA Drone Authorizations: List of Certificates of Authorizations for public entities, colleges, universities, government organizations, etc.
FAA Drone Certifications: List of Special Airworthiness Certificates for private companies
In the meantime, keep your head up and your wits about you.
Keep in touch with the world of robotics with the Robotics Business Review Weekly Newsletter. Just tell us where to send it.