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A Drone the Size of a Mosquito Buzzing Over Your Backyard?

Judiciary Committee weighs pitfalls and benefits of domestic drone surveillance.

by
Bill Straub

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March 21, 2013 - 10:24 am
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WASHINGTON – Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed concern on Wednesday about the domestic use of drones, saying the often-tiny, unmanned flying devices could carry undesirable consequences regarding the right to privacy.

Republicans and Democrats acknowledged that drones offer law enforcement a potentially valuable tool that could even be used by farmers to survey their acreage at a relatively inexpensive cost.

But the device, also known as a UAS, an acronym for unmanned aircraft system, also has the ability to travel nearly undetected into areas where it is unwanted – people’s homes or businesses – and record private information, making it seem like something out of 1984, a novel by George Orwell.

“While there may be many valuable uses for this new technology, the use of unmanned aircraft raises serious concerns about the impact on the constitutional and privacy rights of American citizens,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman.

That view was supported by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member, who said using drones to essentially spy on people without their knowledge is “contrary to the notion of what it means to live in a free society.”

“We need to make sure we have sufficient legal safeguards to promote innovation while protect the general public,” Grassley said.

The drones in question differ markedly from the unmanned airplanes used so extensively by the American military for surveillance and combat operations overseas. They are smaller, lightweight, and, like their military cousins, unmanned. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that as many as 30,000 drones will be operating in American airspace by the end of the decade.

One UAS under development reportedly would be the size of a mosquito.

The domestic use of drones provides a dilemma for lawmakers. The device already has proved its worth.

The Department of Homeland Security, through Customs and Border Protection, already operates modified, unarmed drones to patrol rural parts of the nation’s borders. They also are being used to support drug-interdiction efforts by various law-enforcement agencies.

Benjamin Miller, the Unmanned Aircraft Program manager for the Mesa County, Colo., Sheriff’s Office, told the panel that his office maintains two small, battery-operated unmanned aircraft systems – a Draganflyer X6, a backpack-sized helicopter that can fly for 15 minutes, and a Falcon UAV, an airplane that can fly for an hour and fits in the trunk of a car. Both are fitted with cameras.

The drones have flown 185 hours in just over 40 missions over the past four years on two small batteries. They have been used to provide a vital view of a church fire, locate the body of a missing woman, and conduct an aerial survey of the county landfill to determine the increase in waste over the previous year – a task that once cost almost $10,000 which was completed at a cost of $200 by the drone.

“While unmanned aircraft cannot recover a stranded motorist in a swollen river, they can provide an aerial view for a fraction of the cost of manned aviation,” Miller said. “I estimate unmanned aircraft can complete 30 percent of the missions of manned aviation for two percent of the cost. The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office projects direct cost of unmanned flight at just $25 an hour as compared to the cost of manned aviation that can range from $250 to thousands of dollars per hour. It actually costs just one cent to charge a flight battery for either of our systems.”

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Top Rated Comments   
Big Sis might want to use those drones in conjunction with 1.2 billion rounds of ammo - enough to sustain an Iraq-like war for 20 years. She won't answer congressional inquiries as to why DHS finds a need for so many rounds. Maybe those drones are going to be equipped with 9mm capabilities. Could our government be equipping themselves to wage a war against it's own citizenry?
Naw! This is Amerika! Can't happen here! WAKE UP AMERICA!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (25)
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Will the Drones kill the mosquitos?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As indicated in the next to last sentence of the article, "The American public ... enjoys 'next to no expectation of privacy in public'...". This has been true since the first people arrived in America. If you think your backyard has ever not been "public" in this sense, think again. The right of privacy is not in the constitution, and was made up by the Supreme Court to let them rule the way they wanted to. That means that it can change at any time.

These small drones do little or nothing to change the realities of surveillance, mostly just reduces the cost.

With the current state of electronic surveillance possible at the moment, there is very little that you do that is truly private. If you want that to change, you will probably need a new constitutional amendment. So... either realize, and get used to, the fact of not having any privacy or do something to change the current state of the law.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There's a quick, simple, cheap and easy solution to all the questions about unmanned drones.

Well, that may be an exaggeration.

Let's instead say, There is a quick, simple, cheap and easy solution to get the American people, Congress, and yes, even the president to act on this and make new laws to limit the use of drones in the United States and to protect the privacy of all Americans.

Make them publicly available.

Sell one to The National Enquirer, another to the New York Times, loan one to People Magazine and let PJMedia buy one to use as an "investigative journalism" tool.

How well this help, you ask? Simple, the first time Angelina Jolie shows up in a magazine sunbathing, naked, with her children gathered around her, in her own back yard, she's going to yell, scream, sue at the earliest possible moment and then contact her good friend, Mr. Obama.

All of a sudden, when the Hollywood Royalty who paid for Mr. Obama's previous campaign get in a tizzy about their privacy, I'm betting Mr. Obama, and the Democrats in congress, will suddenly start caring a whole lot about this issue and will pass new laws, for both private and government use, of unmanned drones.

Some billionaire out there should start a privately owned company to manufacture and sell, unmanned aircraft to private companies and citizens. Obama will have to do something.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A nice idea, that leaves out the FAA. The FAA permits people to fly unmanned aerial vehicles, or not, pretty much at its discretion. At the moment, you can fly manned aircraft under a max weight limit, max speed limit, and minimum weather limit, as long as you don't fly more than 500 feet above the local terrain.

Unmanned aerial vehicles by private citizens are not permitted to fly out of sight of the controlling human. Note that a human must be able to intervene at all times. Fines for being found breaking these rules are not light. So, ...private citizens will not be nearly as able as civilian government to surveil their neighbors without them knowing it, much less compared to the military-capable UAVs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
True, but paprazzi don't seem to mind quick forays into lawlessness to get a story.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Spying? The same could be said of helicopters and sat's. The best use I could think of would be traffic control and monitoring car chases. At 5,000 ft a medium-sized drone couldn't be seen by the average person, especially while he is trying to evade the police. Perhaps, in this way, car chases could decrease, as a drone is feeding direction and coordinates to cops, who could then blockade, ensnare or apture the criminal at home.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Probably unlikely a mosquito can fly at 5K altitude. :)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
RC aircraft from 6" up have had surveillance capabilities for quite some time now. Battery or fuel engine, they have hardly any flight time, range or altitude capabilities but in high density residential areas I suspect they could be rather effective for snooping on neighbors. I wouldn't worry to much about anything considered micro sized being effective enough too justify law enforcement or any government agency to invest in. Likewise, the smaller the surveillance equipment the lesser the quality and weight ratio's will always dictate flight areodynamics capabilities. Also, the smaller the craft, the more radical the flight is to control remotely.

All the DOD mini and micro R&D platforms have largely been honeypots for taxpayers funding with little if any ROI.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Look into FPV (First Person View) long range UAV for the civilian market. Innovative private builders have built and flown longer range UAV units with steady video links and direct control over 50 miles. There is a ready to fly platform available now called the Phantom, under $700:

http://www.dji-innovations.com/products/phantom/overview/

Another $500 gets you a high quality FPV kit (available separately) with on screen display. These units are now within consumer grasp out of a box.


Of course some Dem legislators in Oregon are proposing laws that will kill the entire toy RC aircraft industry in that state.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygoJoVk_qSo
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Big Sis might want to use those drones in conjunction with 1.2 billion rounds of ammo - enough to sustain an Iraq-like war for 20 years. She won't answer congressional inquiries as to why DHS finds a need for so many rounds. Maybe those drones are going to be equipped with 9mm capabilities. Could our government be equipping themselves to wage a war against it's own citizenry?
Naw! This is Amerika! Can't happen here! WAKE UP AMERICA!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Clearly I need a giant Penumbrella over my house to ensure my right to privacy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Clearly a violation of the Fourth Amendment... but this administration has shown a desire to DESTROY our Constitution...time to get out my flyswatter.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How about one flying up Obama's nosy nose.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
FOURTH AMENDMENT: AN OVERVIEW

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Ultimately, these words endeavor to protect two fundamental liberty interests - the right to privacy and freedom from arbitrary invasions.

A search occurs when an expectation of privacy that society considers reasonable is infringed by a governmental employee or by an agent of the government. Private individuals who are not acting in either capacity are exempt from the Fourth Amendment prohibitions.

A seizure refers to the interference with an individual's possessory interest in property. To meet the definition of an unreasonable seizure, the property's owner must have had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the items seized. A person is seized when law enforcement personnel use physical force to restrain the person if a reasonable person in the same or a similar situation would not feel free to leave the situation. The previous owner of abandoned property cannot allege an unreasonable seizure of that abandoned property. Abandoned property is property left behind by its owner in a manner in which the owner abandons the possessory interest in the property and no longer retains a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to the search.

The prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures particularly affects the work of law enforcement personnel by restricting the actions that they may take in performing a criminal investigation; however, the ban also disallows unreasonable searches and seizures in the civil litigation context. Law enforcement may only conduct a search if individualized suspicion motivates the search. The Fourth Amendment prohibits generalized searches, unless extraordinary circumstances place the general public in danger.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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