Drones and Groans
Imagine having the ability to fly a remote controlled vehicle to your neighbor’s house to see what they’re eating for dinner or what show they are watching on television. Thanks to advances in technology, this is a feasible reality. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are growing in popularity as more citizens are acquiring these for personal use. Unfortunately, the government is also becoming more enthusiastic about the use of such drones. In fact, the concerns over security have resulted in the creation of a bill that would set the boundaries for government’s use of the crafts.
According to an article recently published by Forbes, Senator Rand Paul produced a bill known as “The Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” that would require government use of drones to follow the obtaining of a warrant. Essentially, the bill is divided into three parts that addresses the following:
First, the bill only deals with government related UAV use for collecting evidence or information directly pertaining to criminal conduct or statute and regulation violations. Secondly, the bill allows for use of the crafts in cases such as border patrol measures and aiding in the deterrence of illegal persons or substances, or when dealing with high risk of terrorist attacks (as deemed by the Secretary of Homeland Security). Thirdly, the bill gives the right to sue and prohibit use of the drones if any of the provisions outlined are violated.
In summary, the focus of the bill is to directly prohibit “community policing” by the government. Because the suggested parameters are simple enough, and because the government has so many other outlets for technological surveillance, the bill is not expected to receive much resistance.
Civilian UAV Activity Growing
As the UAVs lower in price, civilians are obtaining more of them for recreational purposes. In February, one hobbyist discovered a bloody creek near the Columbia Packing Company (meat-processing facility) with his little craft and was able to take pictures. After reporting the incident and sending in the photographs, an investigation ensued. According to an article published by newscientist.com, the company may face criminal charges now as their facility was pumping pig’s blood and toxic chemicals into the city waterways.
Currently the laws regarding civilians use of drones is somewhat sketchy. Recreational remote control vehicle use is not prohibited, except if the craft is used as a surveillance tool. Because the UAV’s cross the line on both sides, the lawsuit will be tricky. The article goes on to say that the FFA has plans this year to produce new rules for civilian use of drones. In the most likely scenario, private use of the crafts will require a permit or license.
Use of UAVs varies greatly: from power companies utilizing them for transmission line monitoring, farmers keeping tabs on dehydrated crops, weather forecasters surveying storms, ranchers wanting to count cows, to journalists seeking to upgrade their newsgathering tools.
The Air Force Times highlights some of the more dramatic fears voiced about the extensive use of drones in the government and private sector. This included fears that the government would be flying over homes in New York to spy on picnics and barbecues to enforce soda regulations and recycling standards. The extremity of the suggestion was merely to point out a simple concept: the balance between governments protecting their citizens and staying within their appropriate privacy bounds is delicate.
UAV Surveillance Capabilities
Without knowing exactly what a UAV is capable of, you can’t truly understand how far-reaching the effects would be of wide-spread use in both the private sector and the government sector. So what are the craft’s abilities and assets? Theuav.com shares some insight on the matter on their website.
There are several types of UAVs used by the military: target and decoy, reconnaissance, combat, research and development, and civil and commercial. Depending on the need at hand, the craft can be equipped to target objects for missiles, contribute battlefield intelligence and information, carry missiles and/or bombs, contribute to research techniques, and be used for commercial or civilian purposes.
Primarily used by the military for scanning terrain, each unmanned craft is operated either remotely, or off a set of pre-programmed flight patterns. Advances and innovations have resulted in more technological capabilities on smaller crafts as well. In general, most UAV’s come equipped with cameras and video recording devices.
The Huffington Post reports that the U.S. Army is working on the development of a helicopter drone that has the recording capability to collect 80 years-worth of video in one day, as well as being able to take off from the ground vertically, hover, and track multiple moving objects simultaneously. One of the most astonishing facts about it is that the craft can track things from 20,000 feet elevation and across distances of 65 square miles. The revolutionary innovations illustrate clearly why Americans have legitimate grounds for concerns over the “big brother” possibilities unless regulations are put in place soon.