Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Harperdrones are coming! The Harperdrones are coming!

Good Day Readers:

After reading these next two articles we couldn't help but wonder if the Harper Government (remember the good old days when it used to be known as The Government of Canada) isn't booted out on its collective fat arses in the next election, we could soon find ourselves inundated with little blue drones bearing Conservative Party of Canada logos. A good place to begin? Mr. E. Snoop.
Clare L. Pieuk
The World of Surveillance, "Here's Looking at you"
By Nick Paumgarten

Monday, May 14, 2012
(Excerpt from page 146)

The prospect of unmanned flight has been around—depending on your definition—since Archytas of Tarentum reputedly designed a steam-powered mechanical pigeon, in the fourth century B.C., or since Nikola Tesla, in 1898, demonstrated a radio-controlled motorboat at an exposition in Madison Square Garden. By the sixties the Air Force was deploying unmanned reconnaissance jets over Southeast Asia. Still, it was the advent, in the mid-nineties, of the Global Positioning System, along with advances in microcomputing, that ushered in the possibility of automated unmanned flight.

The Department of Defense, meanwhile, developed a keen interest. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and manhunts in places like Yemen, the military applications, and the corporations devoted to serving them (Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman), came to dominate the skyscape. Many of these manufacturers had one client: the Department of Defense. In 2001, the military had just a few Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Now it has more than ten thousand. Later this month, the FAA will present a regulatory regimen enabling law-enforcement departments to fly small drones, and the military contractors will suddenly have some eighteen thousand potential new customers.

As of now, only a tiny percentage of municipal and state police departments have any air presence, because most can’t afford helicopters or planes. Small camera-loaded UAVs are much cheaper. The public proposition, at this point, anyway, is not that drones will subjugate or assassinate unwitting citizens but that they will conduct search-and-rescue operations, fight fires, catch bad guys, inspect pipelines, spray crops, count nesting cranes and migrating caribou, and measure weather data and algae growth. For these and other tasks, they are useful and well suited. Of course, they are especially well suited, and heretofore have been most frequently deployed, for surveillance.

“The nature of technology is that it is introduced for one role and then it slippery-slopes into unintended roles,” Peter W. Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution said. Singer believes that the drones will be as transformative as the advent of gunpowder, the steam engine, the automobile, or the computer. “Their intelligence and autonomy is growing,” he said.

"It used to be that an aerial surveillance plane had to fly close. Now sensors on a UAV can detect a milk carton from sixty thousand feet. The law’s not ready for all this.” Writer visits the headquarters of drone manufacturer AeroVironment and sees test flights of some of the company’s products. Discusses concerns about drones and privacy. Tells about the Nano Hummingbird created by AeroVironment’s Nano Lab. Describes other micro aerial vehicles being created at Harvard.

Note: To read the article in its entirety you'll need a subscription to The New Yorker Magazine.

And .....
FridayMay 18, 2012 | By Trevor Timm

Local Governments Have the Power to Restrict Drone Surveillance in the US

A series of events in the last two weeks have set the stage for how surveillance drones will be operated by local law enforcement in the United States and how citizens can demand privacy protections as domestic use escalates.

As EFF has previously reported, Congress passed a bill in February mandating the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) must open national airspace to drones, despite the extensive and unprecedented civil liberties dangers they pose to every American. The FAA, in new rules announced on Monday, made the authorization procedure easier, stating they have “streamlined the process” for “public agencies”—which includes local law enforcement—to legally operate drones in U.S. skies.

We know that dozens of law enforcement agencies already have drones, based on information from EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over the FAA’s initial refusal to release the list of authorizations. And one of the biggest cities with a police department on the list was Seattle.

It turned out Seattle’s city council—which oversees the police department—was just as surprised as many citizens to see Seattle Police Department’s name on the list. The city council learned about the drones through a reporter asking questions related to EFF’s lawsuit, not through official channels. After front page stories in the Seattle Times and an official apology from the Seattle police department, Seattle is now the first city to consider privacy safeguards for drone use by law enforcement.

The ACLU of Washington has asked the city council to pass a legally binding ordinance detailing “what kind of information can be collected, who can collect it, how the information can be used, and how long it can be kept,” along with “an auditing process to make sure the policies are followed.”  The Seattle Times agreed.

In an editorial written on May 6, the city’s largest paper urged city council to adopt “usage restrictions, image-retention limits, and regular audits and reviews of drones as a law-enforcement tool.”

Seattle’s Police Department has already pledged drones would not be used for surveillance, and only “for situations like crime scene photography, missing person searches, and barricaded person scenarios.”

They’ve also indicated they would work with the FAA to develop privacy policies. But as the Seattle Times noted, privacy safeguards must be implemented by binding ordinance, “not by policy nods, promises and good intentions.”

In a similar incident just yesterday, after the Shelby County Tennessee sheriff’s office requested two drones as part of a $400,000 Homeland Security grant, the Shelby county commission questioned the Sheriff’s Office on how they would be using the drone and asked them to draw up privacy guidelines. The sheriff’s office promptly withdrew its request for drones. But encouragingly, the commission is still pushing the sheriff’s office for privacy policies. As the Memphis Daily News reported, “several commissioners said they might still pursue setting some guidelines on the use of such surveillance through a memorandum of understanding with the sheriff’s office.”

Responding to an EFF public records request, Miami-Dade County also released information about its drones earlier this week, which it bought using a grant from the Justice Department (DOJ).

The FAA itself estimates that there may be as many as 30,000 drones in the US by the year 2020, and with the loosened restrictions coupled with the Department of Homeland Security and DOJ issuing grants for local police forces to buy drones, it’s imperative that local governments act swiftly to ban surveillance drones outright or institute robust safeguards for their citizens. Americans cannot afford to wait for the FAA or Congress to act.

Does your local police department own and operate a drone? Check out our interactive map here to find out.

EFF would also like your help. In the coming days, we’re going to announce a crowd-sourcing campaign aimed at finding out as much information as possible on each law enforcement agency’s use of drones and how citizens can voice their concerns to their local governments. Right now, if you have any information on how your local law enforcement plans to use drones, email dronesinfo@eff.org. You can get this information by calling your local police department.

And stay tuned for more, as we plan on announcing a detailed campaign soon.


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