Concern About Domestic Drones, Besides Privacy, Includes That They Will Be Armed For Use Against US Citizens

May 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – With the use of domestic drones increasing, concern has not just come up over privacy issues, but also over the potential use of lethal force by the unmanned aircraft.

Drones have been used overseas to target and kill high-level terror leaders and are also being used along the U.S.-Mexico border in the battle against illegal immigration. But now, these drones are starting to be used domestically at an increasing rate.

The Federal Aviation Administration has allowed several police departments to use drones across the U.S. They are controlled from a remote location and use infrared sensors and high-resolution cameras.

Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas told The Daily that his department is considering using rubber bullets and tear gas on its drone.

“Those are things that law enforcement utilizes day in and day out and in certain situations it might be advantageous to have this type of system on the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle),” McDaniel told The Daily.

The use of potential force from drones has raised the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It’s simply not appropriate to use any of force, lethal or non-lethal, on a drone,” Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the ACLU, told CBSDC.

Crump feels one of the biggest problems with the use of drones is the remote location where they are operated from.

“When the officer is on the scene, they have full access to info about what has transpired there,” Crump explained to CBSDC. “An officer at a remote location far away does not have the same level of access.”

The ACLU is also worried about potential drones malfunctioning and falling from the sky, adding that they are keeping a close eye on the use of these unmanned aircraft by police departments.

“We don’t need a situation where Americans feel there is in an invisible eye in the sky,” Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at ACLU, told CBSDC.

Joshua Foust, fellow at the American Security Project, feels domestic drones should not be armed.

“I think from a legal perspective, there is nothing problematic about floating a drone over a city,” Foust told CBSDC. “In terms of getting armed drones, I would be very nervous about that happening right now.”

McDaniel says that his community should not be worried about the department using a drone.

“We’ve never gone into surveillance for sake of surveillance unless there is criminal activity afoot,” McDaniel told The Daily. “Just to see what you’re doing in your backyard pool — we don’t care.”

But the concern for the ACLU is just too great that an American’s constitutional rights will be trampled with the use of drones.

“The prospect of people out in public being Tased or targeted by force by flying drones where no officers is physically present on the scene,” Crump says, “raises the prospect of unconstitutional force being used on individuals.”

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FAA To Ease Rules For Domestic Use Of Surveillance Aircraft To Spy On US Citizens In America

May 15, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA — Surveillance aircraft used by the U.S. military overseas could soon be coming to the skies above Los Angeles County.

KNX 1070′s Charles Feldman reports the Federal Aviation Administration is making it easier for local law enforcement agencies to fly unmanned drones.

The FAA has streamlined the process that would allow agencies to fly smaller, unarmed versions of the drones that hunt down terrorists in places such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has not yet applied for an application to fly drones over our skies, its Homeland Security chief Bob Osborne said drones could be in the department’s future — with some caveats.

“We have so much congestion in the skies that I would anticipate that there would be some pretty rigid safety standards,” said Osborne.

Drones are typically used over locations where helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are unable to fly, which Osborne said could have a myriad of applications here in the Southland.

“Mountain rescue, where you have a car over the side that’s a thousand feet down the cliff, oftentimes our aircraft can’t fly that low,” he said. “It would be wonderful to know what’s down there before we send a rescue crew.”

Federal officials already utilize drones to patrol a 1,200-mile wide swath of land east of San Diego near the southeast California border.

But the recent expansion of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) above American cities has raised privacy concerns among some who believe the technology could be used for surveillance on U.S. citizens without their knowledge.

President Obama set a deadline in February for the FAA to draft legislation by May 14 that would determine how it will regulate the use of lightweight drones by police and other public safety agencies.

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US Air Force Doesn’t Have A Problem With Spying On Americans With Unmanned Drones

May 13, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – A newly discovered Air Force intelligence brief states that should fleets of unmanned drones accidentally capture surveillance footage of Americans, the data can be stored and analyzed by the Pentagon for up to 90 days.

The instruction, dated April 23, admits that the Air Force cannot legally conduct “nonconsensual surveillance” on Americans, but also states that should the drones”incidentally” capture data while conducting other missions, military intelligence has the right to study it to determine whether the subjects are legitimate targets of domestic surveillance.

“Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent,” the instruction states.

The Air Force can take advantage of “a period not to exceed 90 days” to use the data to assess “whether that information may be collected under the provisions of Procedure 2, DoD 5240.1-R and permanently retained under the provisions of Procedure 3, DoD 5240.1-R.” it continues.

The Pentagon directives cited authorize limited domestic spying in certain scenarios such as natural disasters, environmental cases, and monitoring activity around military bases.

Should the drones capture data on Americans, the Air Force says that it should determine whether they are, among other things, “persons or organizations reasonably believed to be engaged or about to engage, in international terrorist or international narcotics activities.”

A d v e r t i s e m e n t

The instruction also states that the Pentagon can disseminate the data to other intelligence and government agencies, should it see fit.

“Even though information may not be collectible, it may be retained for the length of time necessary to transfer it to another DoD entity or government agency to whose function it pertains.” the document reads.

The document was discovered by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

As we reported in February, Over 30 prominent watchdog groups have banded together to petition the FAA on the proposed increase in the use of drones in US airspace.

The groups, including The American Civil Liberties Union, The Electronic Privacy Information Center and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, are demanding that the FAA hold a rulemaking session to consider the privacy and safety threats.

Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.

The ACLU noted that the FAA’s legislation “would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected.”

In addition to privacy concerns, the groups warned that the ability to link facial recognition technology to surveillance drones and patch the information through to active government databases would “increase the First Amendment risks for would be political dissidents.”

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Cops Promise Their Will Be Drones Flying In US

April 30, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Look up. Drones are “certainly” coming to the skies over the Beltway in the next few years, one area police chief says.

The use of drones in the D.C. area became public information last week, after the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of agencies currently or previously permitted to use the unmanned aerial vehicles. It included many federal departments, such as Agriculture, Homeland Security and Energy as well as local organizations such as Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech.

“Drones will certainly have a purpose and a reason to be in this region in the next, coming years,” said Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer, while speaking on WTOP’s “Ask the Chief” program on Monday. “Just as a standpoint as an alternative for spotting traffic and sending information back to our VDOT Smart Traffic centers, and being able to observe backups.”

The use of drones over U.S. soil has some in Congress concerned about Americans’ privacy rights.

“The potential for invasive surveillance of daily activities with drone technology is high,” wrote Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., in an April 19 letter to FAA. “We must ensure that as drones take flight in domestic airspace, they don’t take off without privacy protections for those along their flight path.”

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said in the same letter he “proudly suppported” the FAA Modernization and Reform Act that allowed for the domestic use of drones. There are many institutions in his home state that the FAA has cleared for done use, including Texas A&M University, and the police forces in the city of Arlington outside Dallas-Fort Worth and in Montgomery County near Houston.

“However, if used improperly or unethically, drones could endanger privacy and I want to make sure that risk is taken into consideration,” he said.

The police chief of Prince William County, Va., which neighbors Fairfax, is not as focused on the prospect of the alternative monitoring system.

“I really haven’t studied them that much,” says Police Chief Charlie Dean. “I’m sure they’re valuable to some degree, but I don’t know about their capabilities.”

The police chiefs also discussed their officers’ involvement in seeking out illegal immigrants.

Prince William County has received national attention for its aggressive policy of checking the immigration status of every person arrested.

Victims of crimes and witnesses are exempt from such questioning, Deane said Monday. He supported the policy as “fair, lawful and reasonable.”

Upon learning that an arrested person is an illegal immigrant, Prince William police officers then turn over their information to federal authorities, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Fairfax County officers are not required to ask about immigration status after making an arrest, says Rohrer, though officers are trained to ask if they suspect someone might be in the country illegally.

“We are not a sanctuary,” he says.

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Another Black Hole In Which To Throw Taxpayer Dollars: FAA Sees 30,000 Drones In US Airspace Spying On US Citizens By 2020

February 8, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s … a drone, and it’s watching you. That’s what privacy advocates fear from a bill Congress passed this week to make it easier for the government to fly unmanned spy planes in U.S. airspace.

The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015.

Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well.

“There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities,” said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also is “concerned about the implications for surveillance by government agencies,” said attorney Jennifer Lynch.

The provision in the legislation is the fruit of “a huge push by lawmakers and the defense sector to expand the use of drones” in American airspace, she added.

According to some estimates, the commercial drone market in the United States could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars once the FAA clears their use.

The agency projects that 30,000 drones could be in the nation’s skies by 2020.

The highest-profile use of drones by the United States has been in the CIA’s armed Predator-drone program, which targets al Qaeda terrorist leaders. But the vast majority of U.S. drone missions, even in war zones, are flown for surveillance. Some drones are as small as model aircraft, while others have the wingspan of a full-size jet.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. use of drone surveillance has grown so rapidly that it has created a glut of video material to be analyzed.

The legislation would order the FAA, before the end of the year, to expedite the process through which it authorizes the use of drones by federal, state and local police and other agencies. The FAA currently issues certificates, which can cover multiple flights by more than one aircraft in a particular area, on a case-by-case basis.

The Department of Homeland Security is the only federal agency to discuss openly its use of drones in domestic airspace.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the department, operates nine drones, variants of the CIA’s feared Predator. The aircraft, which are flown remotely by a team of 80 fully qualified pilots, are used principally for border and counternarcotics surveillance under four long-term FAA certificates.

Officials say they can be used on a short-term basis for a variety of other public-safety and emergency-management missions if a separate certificate is issued for that mission.

“It’s not all about surveillance,” Mr. Aftergood said.

Homeland Security has deployed drones to support disaster relief operations. Unmanned aircraft also could be useful for fighting fires or finding missing climbers or hikers, he added.

The FAA has issued hundreds of certificates to police and other government agencies, and a handful to research institutions to allow them to fly drones of various kinds over the United States for particular missions.

The agency said it issued 313 certificates in 2011 and 295 of them were still active at the end of the year, but the FAA refuses to disclose which agencies have the certificates and what their purposes are.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the FAA to obtain records of the certifications.

“We need a list so we can ask [each agency], ‘What are your policies on drone use? How do you protect privacy? How do you ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment?’ ” Ms. Lynch said.

“Currently, the only barrier to the routine use of drones for persistent surveillance are the procedural requirements imposed by the FAA for the issuance of certificates,” said Amie Stepanovich, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research center in Washington.

The Department of Transportation, the parent agency of the FAA, has announced plans to streamline the certification process for government drone flights this year, she said.

“We are looking at our options” to oppose that, she added.

Section 332 of the new FAA legislation also orders the agency to develop a system for licensing commercial drone flights as part of the nation’s air traffic control system by 2015.

The agency must establish six flight ranges across the country where drones can be test-flown to determine whether they are safe for travel in congested skies.

Representatives of the fast-growing unmanned aircraft systems industry say they worked hard to get the provisions into law.

“It sets deadlines for the integration of [the drones] into the national airspace,” said Gretchen West, executive vice president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group.

She said drone technology is new to the FAA.

The legislation, which provides several deadlines for the FAA to report progress to Congress, “will move the [drones] issue up their list of priorities,” Ms. West said.

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Federal Goverment Hiding Data On Domestic Use Of Drone Aircraft

January 12, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The domestic use of stealth drones to survey America from the skies is no joke. The Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that the US government has used the planes on the home front for years, but why and how is largely unknown.

An advocacy group aims to change that.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit based out of San Francisco, California, filed a Freedom of Information Act request back in April to learn more about domestic drone use in America. Eight months later, the Department of Transportation (and its subdivision that deals directly with domestic drones, the Federal Aviation Administration), has failed to follow through. On Tuesday this week, the EFF responded by formally filing a suit against the DoT, “Demanding data on certifications and authorizations the agency has issued for the operation of unmanned aircraft, also known as drones.”

Aside from what is leaked out of the Pentagon to the media, much isn’t clear about drone use except for a seemingly endless series of misadventures that have plagued the Department of Defense in recent months. As the US military continues drone operations overseas, the craft fleets have been linked to the firing of missiles, the monitoring of both insurgents and civilians and escalating tensions between the US and Iran. In terms of military use, drone operations have yielded widespread opposition from the likes of constitutional rights advocates, presidential candidate Ron Paul and the American Civil Liberties Union. Regardless, the government is only adding an arsenal of more and more craft to its fleet every month, adding international bases and investing billions in new unmanned planes.

American drone missions overseas are being launched for obvious reasons, despite how the government describes it. Domestic use, however, is largely kept in the shadows and is rarely discussed. San Francisco’s EFF says that at least 285 missions have occurred in America, but they want to know more about them. The US government, however, is being far from accommodation in regards to their request.

With the filing of the suit on Tuesday, the EFF hopes that they will be able to finally let the public understand why spy planes are being flown through American skies without the people of the country given any reason or warning as to why.

“There is currently no information available to the public on which specific public and civil entities have applied for, been granted or been denied certificates or authorizations to fly unmanned aircraft in the United States,” the EFF’s complaint says. In April they filed their FOIA request for information, and with no response nearly a year later, they have determined that by September of 2011, almost 300 missions by 85 separate users were certified by the FAA in all. The FAA, a component of the DOT, approves all domestic drone missions. A recent report revealed that the they are currently in the works to approve non-federal use of the spy craft planes in the US, drafting a legislation that will umbrella any local law enforcement unit to deploy drones as they would a street cruiser or bike cop.

“This is a tool that many law enforcement agencies never imagined they could have,” Steven Gitlin of AeroVironment Inc. told the Los Angeles Times in November. His company is already in the works to supply law enforcement agencies with 18,000 of small drone crafts once the FAA grants them clearance.

In the meantime, however, the federal government continues to operate these missions without explaining why. Such a shadowy-nature has only increased paranoia for Americans skeptic of the Big Brother branding near synonymous with the Obama administration, and an ongoing assault on the civil liberties of citizens is driving those previously unaware of drones to disavow the use.

“The use of drones in American airspace could dramatically increase the physical tracking of citizens – tracking that can reveal deeply personal details about our private lives,” EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch says in a statement. “Drones give the government and other unmanned aircraft operators a powerful new surveillance tool to gather extensive and intrusive data on Americans’ movements and activities,” she adds, noting that the usage rises “significant privacy concerns.”

“We’re asking the DOT to follow the law and respond to our FOIA request so we can learn more about who is flying the drones and why,” Lynch pleads in explaining the suit.

While America waits for the truth, they are left with only one option: to prefer for the worst and cover their tracks.

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