We've all raised holy hell over President Obama's increased drone programs which was expanded into targeting American citizens, but now another threat to our civil rights as well as our own security has taken shape on US soil.
While a national debate has erupted over the Obama administration's lethal drone strikes overseas, federal authorities have stepped up efforts to license surveillance drones for law enforcement and other uses in U.S. airspace, spurring growing concern about violations of privacy.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it had issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007, far more than were previously known. Some 327 permits are still listed as active. Operators include police, universities, state transportation departments and at least seven federal agencies. The remotely controlled aircraft vary widely, from devices as small as model airplanes to large unarmed Predators.
The FAA, which has a September 2015 deadline from Congress to open the nation's airspace to drone traffic, has estimated 10,000 drones could be aloft five years later. The FAA this week solicited proposals to create six sites across the country to test drones, a crucial step before widespread government and commercial use is approved.
Local and state law enforcement agencies are expected to be among the largest customers.
Are you really pissed yet?
In theory, drones can offer unblinking eye-in-the-sky coverage. They can carry high-resolution video cameras, infrared sensors, license plate readers, listening devices and other high-tech gear. Companies have marketed drones disguised as sea gulls and other birds to mask their use.
How about now?
President Obama loves him some drones.
A law signed by President Barack Obama in February 2012 directs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to throw American airspace wide open to drones by September 30, 2015. But for now Mesa County, with its empty skies, is one of only a few jurisdictions with an FAA permit to fly one. The sheriff ’s office has a three-foot-wide helicopter drone called a Draganflyer, which stays aloft for just 20 minutes.
The only thing stopping these drone makers at this time is the FAA, but thanks to Buck McKeon---it won't be long now.
So far only a dozen police departments, including ones in Miami and Seattle, have applied to the FAA for permits to fly drones. But drone advocates—who generally prefer the term UAV, for unmanned aerial vehicle—say all 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are potential customers. They hope UAVs will soon become essential too for agriculture (checking and spraying crops, finding lost cattle), journalism (scoping out public events or celebrity backyards), weather forecasting, traffic control. “The sky’s the limit, pun intended,” says Bill Borgia, an engineer at Lockheed Martin. “Once we get UAVs in the hands of potential users, they’ll think of lots of cool applications.”
he biggest obstacle, advocates say, is current FAA rules, which tightly restrict drone flights by private companies and government agencies (though not by individual hobbyists). Even with an FAA permit, operators can’t fly UAVs above 400 feet or near airports or other zones with heavy air traffic, and they must maintain visual contact with the drones. All that may change, though, under the new law, which requires the FAA to allow the “safe integration” of UAVs into U.S. airspace.
If the FAA relaxes its rules, says Mark Brown, the civilian market for drones—and especially small, low-cost, tactical drones—could soon dwarf military sales, which in 2011 totaled more than three billion dollars. Brown, a former astronaut who is now an aerospace consultant in Dayton, Ohio, helps bring drone manufacturers and potential customers together. The success of military UAVs, he contends, has created “an appetite for more, more, more!” Brown’s PowerPoint presentation is called “On the Threshold of a Dream.”
Of course terrorists and criminals will be able to get their hands on drones as well and just like the NRA, the only way to combat (gun violence) drones is with more (guns) drones.
The answer to the threat of drone attacks, some engineers say, is more drones. “The new field is counter-UAVs,” says Stephen Griffiths, an engineer for the Utah-based avionics firm Procerus Technologies. Artificial-vision systems designed by Procerus would enable one UAV to spot and destroy another, either by ramming it or shooting it down. “If you can dream it,” Griffiths says, “you can do it.” Eventually drones may become smart enough to operate autonomously, with minimal human supervision. But Griffiths believes the ultimate decision to attack will remain with humans.
Will Mosquito drones be made to pass on diseases to humans as they imitate insects? God help us.
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