Law enforcement agencies across U.S. file FAA applications to use drones for surveillance

Thursday, February 21, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: drones, surveillance, FAA

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(NaturalNews) We can no longer deny that the day of the total surveillance society is finally upon us, as scores of law enforcement agencies around the country file applications with the Federal Aviation Administration for the use of spy drones, despite concerns from civil rights groups that widespread incorporation of unmanned aerial vehicles will undoubtedly lead to privacy issues.

According to NBC New York, not all police departments are interested in the kind of predator-type drones that most Americans have seen and which are used by the U.S. military to strike terrorist targets overseas. Rather, according to the NYPD's chief, Ray Kelly, most departments' drones, like his, are similar to a remote-controlled plane with a camera (a type of drone that, of course, is much smaller, more versatile in a large city and would be harder to detect).

The station's "I-Team" examined hundreds of pages of drone applications filed by police departments, sheriff's offices, the FBI and even educational institutions with the FAA. Most, the report said, were interested in drones that could be launched from a person's hand.

The station also published an interactive map showing which public and nonprofit entities had made application with the FAA: www.google.com.

Drones - One coming to a city near you

The use of UAVs for police and civilian entities was made possible last year by Congress and President Obama, with a law that opened the skies to drone usage that is to be regulated by the FAA, which has been tasked with developing plans and procedures to keep track of who was using American airspace for drone-based surveillance.

According to some of the applications reviewed by the NBC New York I-Team:

-- A police department in Alabama wants a drone for use in "covert surveillance of drug transactions."

-- A drone would be used by a Maryland police agency for "aerial observation of houses when serving warrants."

-- A department in Texas wants to use a drone for "forensic photographs and intelligence gathering."

Other departments, the NBC New York team said, were more vague about why they wanted a UAV. "A Florida department," the report said, "blacked out nearly all the text under the 'intended use' section of its FAA application."

And it is precisely that kind of obfuscation that is troubling to civil rights groups and Americans who are increasingly concerned about their constitutional right to privacy.

So much for your privacy rights

"We need to make sure they prohibit massive surveillance of Americans' activities," Udi Ofer, the advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the news team.

"I think there is no doubt that eventually the NYPD is going to deploy drones in New York City," Ofer said.

In reality, they will likely wind up in every major city, barring state legislation preventing them.

A spokesman for the NYPD said; however, that the department had no such plans for UAVs. The news team noted that the NYPD is not on the published list of FAA drone applications.

Ofer says the real issue is whether there will be too few restrictions on the use of UAVs over cities by police agencies.

"What we do not want to see, and make sure that it doesn't happen, is just have drones hovering over the skies of New York City, 24 hours a day, engaging in massive surveillance, of just capturing footage and transmitting it to NYPD database and storing that," said Ofer.

Give up essential liberty for a little temporary security, eh?

Of course, manufacturers of drones don't much care about privacy concerns. As is always the case, they and other backers of widespread drone usage are playing the drones enhance public safety card.

"We don't need to know what they're using it for, we just need to know they're using it for good," Kevin Gambold, who trains and advises businesses on the use of drones, told WNBC.

"I would be upset if a drone was used to give me a speeding ticket," said Gambold. "But, actually its utility goes the other way. It is far more useful for what we want the police to do, which is find the bad guys, raid the building, save the kid. That's where the focus needs to be."

Privacy rights advocates say they aren't opposed to UAV use by police. What they want; however, is what most Americans want: Rules governing their use, which would include strict prohibitions against using them for blatant, warrantless spying (along with stiff penalties for any violations).

"There are three principles we believe need to be part of the conversation in regulating drone activity," said Ofer. "One is to make sure there isn't massive surveillance of people's activities. Secondly, that there are strong regulations on what can be done with images and sounds that are actually stored, and third that there's a real public oversight."

Currently, a number of states are considering legislation that would ban the use of drones in their skies. If any of these pass, look for a showdown in federal courts since Uncle Sam gives the FAA carte blanche say-so over all U.S. skies.





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