Sunday, January 23, 2011
Drones being use to spy on Americans?
By Peter Finn
...As of Dec. 1, according to the FAA, there were more than 270 active authorizations for the use of dozens of kinds of drones. Approximately 35 percent of these permissions are held by the Defense Department, 11 percent by NASA and 5 percent by the Department of Homeland Security, including permission to fly Predators on the northern and southern borders.
Other users are law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, as well as manufacturers and academic institutions.
For now, only a handful of police departments and sheriff's offices in the United States - including in Queen Anne's County, Md., Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Mesa County, Colo. - fly drones. They so do as part of pilot programs that mostly limit the use of the drones to training exercises over unpopulated areas.
Among state and local agencies, the Texas Department of Public Safety has been the most active user of drones for high-risk operations. Since the search outside Austin, Nabors said, the agency has run six operations with drones, all near the southern border, where officers conducted surveillance of drug and human traffickers.
Some police officials, as well as the manufacturers of unmanned aerial systems, have been clamoring for the FAA to allow their rapid deployment by law enforcement. They tout the technology as a tactical game-changer in scenarios such as hostage situations and high-speed chases...
"The question we confront today is what limits there are upon this power of technology to shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the 2001 case.
Still, Joseph J. Vacek, a professor in the Aviation Department at the University of North Dakota who has studied the potential use of drones in law enforcement, said the main objections to the use of domestic drones will probably have little to do with the Constitution.
"Where I see the challenge is the social norm," Vacek said. "Most people are not okay with constant watching. That hover-and-stare capability used to its maximum potential will probably ruffle a lot of civic feathers."
At least one community has already balked at the prospect of unmanned aircraft.
The Houston Police Department considered participating in a pilot program to study the use of drones, including for evacuations, search and rescue, and tactical operations. In the end, it withdrew...