OGDEN, UTAH – The Ogden Police Department wants to fly an unmanned surveillance blimp at a height of just 400 feet over high crime areas of the city to watch for “suspicious activity,” but an initial request for approval was rejected by the FAA on the basis that the program would be a safety risk.
Recently released FAA documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation illustrate how law enforcement bodies across the country are rushing to deploy drones and surveillance blimps with scant regard for the fourth amendment or privacy rights.
In a letter sent to the FAA by Jon J. Greiner, the Ogden Police Chief attempted to assure the federal agency that the UAS surveillance blimp the police department planned to use was air worthy and safe.
In the letter, Greiner describes the blimp as a “nocturnal surveillance airship which will be used for law enforcement surveillance of high crime areas of Ogden City.”
From a height of just 400 feet in the sky, the dirigible would use its camera system to spot “suspicious activity” on city streets and send the footage back to police headquarters.
“The Pilot in Command would also be able to manually operate the UAS so that it could remain on scene waiting for an officer’s arrival,” states the letter.
The FAA responded by refusing to give approval for the police department to deploy the blimp, noting that the operation “presents an unacceptable high risk to the National Airspace System (NAS),” because the blimp would not be under visual observation throughout its use.
“Your Program Executive Summary addresses a Concept of Operation (CONOPS) where the VIPAR UA will be utilized in a patrol capacity for nocturnal surveillance within a high crime area of Ogden, UT. The CONOPS describes the launch and recovery of the UA from a Department of Public Safety Building in Ogden at which time control of the UA would be transferred from the ground control station at the launch site to a control station located in the Police Command Center. The COA application does not address the use of visual observers during the operation and without conforming to policy guidelines regarding the utilization of visual observers, this application cannot be approved,” states the FAA letter.
It is likely that the police department will get permission to use the blimp so long as they give assurances that the dirigible will be under visual observation at all times.
The use of surveillance drones and blimps to carry out sweeping surveillance of the public with total disregard for privacy rights is expected to accelerate in the coming years. The FAA has forecast that 30,000 surveillance drones will be in U.S. skies by the end of the decade.
Last month, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told a House Committee on Homeland Security that the federal agency was working on deploying drones for purposes of “public safety.”
As we reported earlier this year, the DHS is already using another type of airborne drone surveillance, also utilized to track insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, for the purposes of “emergency and non-emergency incidents” within the United States.
US law enforcement bodies are already using drone technology to spy on Americans. In December last year, a Predator B drone was called in to conduct surveillance over a family farm in North Dakota as part of a SWAT raid on the Brossart family, who were suspects in the egregious crime of stealing six missing cows. Local police in this one area have already used the drone on two dozen occasions since June last year.
The U.S. Army recently tested a football field-sized blimp over the city of New Jersey. The blimp can fly for a period of 21 hours and “is equipped with high-tech sensors that can monitor insurgents from above.”
Recently released FAA documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that the FAA gave the green light for surveillance drones to be used in U.S. skies despite the fact that during the FAA’s own tests the drones crashed numerous times even in areas of airspace where no other aircraft were flying.
The documents illustrate how the drones pose a huge public safety risk, contradicting a recent coordinated PR campaign on behalf of the drone industry which sought to portray drones as safe, reliable and privacy-friendly.
Alex Jones predicted the use of blimps for invasive surveillance in his 2005 film Martial Law. Watch a clip below during which Alex discusses this and related issues during a CBS San Antonio interview.