Friend or foe? Civilian drones stir debate

Mar 18, 2013 by Anne Renaut

Drones: A flying technological marvel that could save lives or a sinister robot spy which edges the United States ever closer towards becoming a surveillance society?

The imminent proliferation of unmanned aircraft in American skies has stirred a debate which veers between excitement at the possibilities to deep concern they may be deployed to snoop on law-abiding citizens.

Congress has ordered the to open up airspace to unmanned aircraft by October 2015, a decision expected to see thousands of criss-crossing the sky within a few years.

Supporters of the move point to a vast range of applications which drones could be used for—tracking the progress of wildfires, helping to find lost skiers, identifying criminals or mapping inhospitable terrain.

"The possibilities ... are endless," said Ryan Calo, an expert in law and emerging technology at Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society.

"What are drones but flying smartphones, one app away from indispensable? We could see drones accompanying early morning joggers, taking sport, wildlife and other photography to a new level."

While the of drones is associated with their use in war, the Association for International (AUVSI) believes they can "save money, time and lives" in civilian life.

The AUVSI also believes increased drone use will create 100,000 jobs by 2025, injecting billions of dollars into the economy.

Baptiste Tripard, North American sales director of SenseFly, the Swiss manufacturer of a drone that can draw or take high resolution photos, believes the United States could become the biggest market for drones.

"The United States has the potential to become the largest market in the world, particularly in agriculture, where professionals are already used to working with high-tech instruments," Baptiste told AFP.

Civil liberties groups have a more guarded view of the likely darkening of American skies by unmanned aircraft.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warns drones can intercept messages on wireless networks, monitor up to 65 people and carry eagle-eyed technology that can identify the brand on a carton of milk from 18,000 meters.

When a drone was used to assess damage from an earthquake in Italy in September, it also stumbled across a marijuana plantation and duly identified those individuals responsible.

Similarly, while US Customs deploys drones to patrol the border, their unmanned aircraft are sometimes used to help local police.

"Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the government," the American Civil Liberties Union has warned.

The potential implications of widespread drone use mirrors the problems faced by Internet giant Google, which was fined $7 million on Tuesday after it emerged that vehicles snapping photos for its Street View images were also gathering information from private Wi-Fi hotspots.

The FAA meanwhile estimates that more than 7,000 small unmanned aircraft will dot American skies over the next five years.

When US airspace opens up in October 2015, drones will be used in six test locations. The tests are designed to help the FAA draw up rules governing the use of .

Currently drones are allowed to fly on public service missions—used by fire brigades or customs for example—or for recreation, provided the smallest are visible to the naked eye.

Thirty US states are working on legislation to limit the use of drones, a move welcomed by the ACLU.

The rights group has argued that states should demand law enforcement seek warrants for drone use and prohibit the publication of images from drones or equipping them with weapons such as tasers, rubber bullets and tear gas.

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LariAnn
3.1 / 5 (7) Mar 18, 2013
This technology will bring a whole new meaning to "keeping up with the Joneses", as neighbors will have their own drones to spy on each other, or simply to get a glimpse of someone sunbathing in the nude. I can think of uses, such as doing a local investigation of a loud party, or finding out where that obnoxious noise is coming from. Citizens may turn in drone footage to law enforcement to get action on unlawful activities - yes, we don't need Big Brother for the initiation of a surveillance society, we'll do it to ourselves!
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (10) Mar 18, 2013
Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the government


Surveillance is ultimately necessary in order to stop mass shootings.

Your "liberties" mean nothing if any random lunatic can kill you today, for any reason or no reason at all.

Thirty US states are working on legislation to limit the use of drones, a move welcomed by the ACLU.


The states don't have the power to do that. The Federal government does.
kochevnik
3.6 / 5 (9) Mar 18, 2013
Your "liberties" mean nothing if any random lunatic can kill you today, for any reason or no reason at all.
That's why it's important to learn how to aim and shoot, and be able to carry. Police are usually bad shots. Also pursuing big pharma for creating adderall and Ritalin addicts who are prone to instigating random acts of violence. That side effect is printed on the fucking label
PhotonX
5 / 5 (5) Mar 18, 2013
Surveillance is ultimately necessary in order to stop mass shootings.
Okay, I'll bite. Exactly how in the world does surveillance stop mass shootings? I suppose a drone could reveal a rooftop sniper, but so can a helicopter. Most mass shootings occur inside of structures where a drone can't see. So, I am at a complete loss to understand this assertion.
Modernmystic
4.6 / 5 (10) Mar 18, 2013
Surveillance is ultimately necessary in order to stop mass shootings. Your "liberties" mean nothing if any random lunatic can kill you today, for any reason or no reason at all.


You have a far higher chance of being hit by lightning.

Get some perspective and quit telling me what MY liberty means to ME from your pathologically fearful mindset. Thank you.

The states don't have the power to do that. The Federal government does.


The federal government doesn't have ANY power that isn't given to it by the people. If it does then it's an autocracy....it's not a philosophical Gordian knot. It's simple logic.
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Mar 18, 2013
We can sum up the problem with these two passages from the article, plus what lariann pointed out:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warns drones can intercept messages on wireless networks, monitor up to 65 people and carry eagle-eyed technology that can identify the brand on a carton of milk from 18,000 meters.

....
"Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the government," the American Civil Liberties Union has warned.


Legitimate scientific and industrial usage of this technology will constitute only the merest fraction of drone deployments, with the OVERWHELMING majority of use occuring as direct infringement of our constitutional rights and Civil Liberties, without VERY strict controls on how these drones may be used.

Just because something can be done, doesn't make it "a good".

Lord_jag
5 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2013
My company just purchased a drone - a quadrachopper. My o my its a wonderful thing. I could see literally hundreds of uses from inspecting building structures to mapping work sites to scouting out wildlife.

Its a sky hook really. If you want to suspend anything 500g or less from a crazy height(this one goes to 1km height), this will do it.
LariAnn
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 18, 2013
The next step in personal drones will be those that are equipped with aftermarket devices to locate and disable other drones. Kids raised on video games will be enthralled at the idea of hunting and destroying drones all over the neighborhood. Your drone could be equipped to grapple/capture an "alien" drone and bring it home, where you could then refit it to do your bidding. In the case of pricey drones, this would be a real find for drone hunters. If drones are receiving instructions (computer code?) wirelessly, what a great opportunity for hackers to "infect" drones with a virus that causes the drone to go out of control and destroy itself. The possibilities are, indeed, endless.
Q-Star
1.7 / 5 (3) Mar 18, 2013
The next step in personal drones will be those that are equipped with aftermarket devices to locate and disable other drones. Kids raised on video games will be enthralled at the idea of hunting and destroying drones all over the neighborhood. Your drone could be equipped to grapple/capture an "alien" drone and bring it home, where you could then refit it to do your bidding. In the case of pricey drones, this would be a real find for drone hunters. If drones are receiving instructions (computer code?) wirelessly, what a great opportunity for hackers to "infect" drones with a virus that causes the drone to go out of control and destroy itself. The possibilities are, indeed, endless.


Nothing personal, but that is a very boring observation. Kids (and adults) have been doing those nasty things already for decades. With computers, phones and the internet.
trapezoid
4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 18, 2013
If you want to suspend anything 500g or less from a crazy height(this one goes to 1km height), this will do it.

So now in addition to guns, crazy people will have a brilliant bomb delivery system.

Your "liberties" mean nothing if any random lunatic [with a drone] can kill you today, for any reason or no reason at all.


And don't forget drug transporting, burglary, prison escape... boy, the possibilities are endless...
It will be interesting to see what countermeasures develop.
GoodImp
1 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2013
If people don't realize we're a police state, they soon learn. I believe the citizenry should know exactly the 5 questions; when, what, where, why, and how these systems are being used, especially in regards to LE and gov'tal uses. The military application is one thing, but if use here in the states, people must know what the purpose is, i.e. search and rescue, ect., ect. The citizenry should be allowed video feeds and be able to demand records outside reasonible National Security exemptions. We should know how the gov't enjoys slapping 'classified' on everything. Or, how about this, forbid drones INCONUS.
praos
1 / 5 (2) Mar 24, 2013
Big Bird is watching you.

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