COMMENT - Of course, the Iranians understand the problem since it is also theirs.
Sat May 18, 2013 11:57AM
Top U.S. scholars gathered to testify in a little-watched congressional hearing Friday about the growing threat the use of drones in U.S. airspace poses to civil liberties.
They warned that unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the specter of a “significant new avenue for surveillance of American life,” as Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, characterized it for lawmakers Friday.
“Many Americans are familiar with these aircraft - commonly called drones - because of their use overseas in places like Afghanistan and Yemen. But drones are coming to America,” he said.
Recent legislation requires the Federal Aviation Administration to “develop a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.”
At the same time, the technology “is quickly becoming cheaper and more powerful,” which has accelerated interest in deploying drones among police departments, Mr. Calabrese pointed out in testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.
The problem, he warned, is that “our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with constitutional values.”
So as drones proliferate, so too does the “specter of routine aerial surveillance in American life,” he argued, “a development that would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States.”
“Drones can be employed in an endless variety of civilian applications,” noted John Villasenor, a fellow in government studies at the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, in testimony before the committee.
Plus, in a time of fiscal constraint, drones are cheaper. For instance, after trying for months to cobble together enough money to buy a $25 million turbine engine helicopter, the Grand Forks, N.D., police department ultimately turned to drones as a lower-cost alternative.
But the low-cost of drones may also be part of the problem, Calabrese argued. In the past, because manned aircraft are costly to buy, operate, and maintain, “this expense has always imposed a natural limit on the government’s aerial surveillance capability,” he said.
Now, the prospect of cheap, small drones equipped with video surveillance “threatens to eradicate existing practical limits on aerial monitoring and allow for pervasive surveillance, police fishing expeditions, and abusive use of these tools in a way that could eventually eliminate the privacy Americans have traditionally enjoyed in their movements and activities,” he warned.
“Now that surveillance can be carried out by unmanned aircraft, this natural limit is eroding.” Christian Science Monitor
FACTS & FIGURES
Thousands of unmanned aircraft systems - commonly known as drones - could be buzzing around in U.S. airspace by 2015 because of a law passed last year.
The 2012 law, called the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, contains a seven-page provision - known as the Drone Act - requiring the FAA to fully integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System by September 2015. Additionally, the Drone Act allows law enforcement agencies, including local police forces, to buy and use unmanned aircraft for evidence gathering and surveillance.
American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst Jay Stanley said that in American legal tradition, police don’t watch over citizens unless they have individualized suspicion that a person is about to do something wrong. But, he said, drones could allow police to constantly monitor people, tracking their movements and vehicles.
Virginia is considering a two-year moratorium on drone use. Thirty other states have introduced legislation to protect privacy and limit unmanned aircraft use. mcclatchydc.com
The FAA recently released an updated list of domestic drone authorizations, showing more than 20 new drone operators, and bringing to 81 the total number of public entities that have applied for FAA drone authorizations through October 2012.
After Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization last year requiring the FAA to permit the operation of drones weighing 25 pounds or less, observers predicted that anything up to 30,000 spy drones could be flying in U.S. skies by 2020. infowars.com