Drones. Coming to a Town Near You!

This week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally released its first round of records in response to EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for information on the agency’s drone authorization program. The agency says the two lists it released include the names of all public and private entities that have applied for authorizations to fly drones domestically. These lists—which include the Certificates of Authorizations (COAs), issued to public entities like police departments, and the Special Airworthiness Certificates (SACs), issued to private drone manufacturers—show for the first time who is authorized to fly drones in the United States.

“Quickly integrate a wide range of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles, operated by both governmental and corporate entities, with commercial and general aviation traffic across the nation’s skies by September 2015.”

So why is Drone usage suddenly popping up all over the place? It basically comes down to Congress. Feeling that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) wasn’t moving fast enough on the subject of  Drones, Congress put in a mandate in the FAA funding bill demanding that they “quickly integrate a wide range of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles, operated by both governmental and corporate entities, with commercial and general aviation traffic across the nation’s skies by September 2015.” This establishes specific deadlines designed to speed up the widespread use of unmanned planes, or drones, across the U.S.

The FAA funding package with this mandate passed the House in a 248-169 vote.  Indeed the push through Congress was well organized and well funded. I present as evidence the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus website.


In addition to that big push from the FAA, the Department of Homeland Security announced a program to further “facilitate and accelerate the adoption” of drones by local police agencies. This includes giving grants and training to local police departments and assists in choosing the “proper drone” for their particular needs. Just what the law enforcement of this country needs.. a one stop shopping experience.

A person might ask.. “Well, we have police helicopters right now. How are these any different?” That question perhaps could be answered by giving just a little bit of information of the capabilities of this new technology.  The small unmanned aircraft are far more maneuverable and quieter than helicopters and piloted aircraft and are capable of carrying gigapixel cameras complete with infrared and thermal imaging technology, automated license plate readers and facial recognition technology.  They have the capability of tracking multiple targets and provide surveillance over entire cities at the same time down to the street level. A single “eye” that watches everything that EVERYONE does. The expectation of reasonable privacy for the innocents has been exchanged for the “Al-Qaeda” plan… right under our noses.

But hey… if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about, right?

That in a nutshell is the big advantage with Drones. The country can avoid the checks and balances of  Congressional Oversight when committing acts of war overseas. The country can avoid the “messiness” of court justice when there’s an American citizen abroad that they deem a terrorist by just assassinating them. You don’t need a trial when they’re dead right? And domestically the country can avoid violations of privacy and surveillance because “it’s not a human being that’s doing it.”

Look… up in the sky… it’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a Drone?

Guardian. The domestic version of the Predator

Domestic Drone Use Slips Through Congress with Little Opposition.

CBP’s Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the Nation’s Border Security

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has always been at the forefront of fighting for your rights in the Digital Age. They have filed several Freedom of Information requests in their efforts to obtain information of the use of Drones.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

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  1. Stimpson says:

    Interesting topic, though I don’t find the surveillance drones to be very worrying. But maybe that’s just because they’re not armed like the ones being used overseas. What’s a little privacy incursion compared to snuffing out a family?

    • Krell says:

      You have a point, Mike. What are privacy concerns relative to death of a whole family? But comparing something to something even worse doesn’t make the first instance acceptable.

      I happen to think that it’s not a good thing having robots hovering overhead, watching every move of people in whole areas or entire cities. Plus with the thermal imaging cameras that some of the Drones are capable of, they will be able to peer inside your house or buildings, observing your every move as a thermal image. That I find quite disturbing and feel it completely circumvents the idea of warrants and overview of searches.

      Another thing that is troublesome is how drones are being forced upon us by intense lobbying. The FAA was mandated to allow drones in US airspace in spite of some reservations about safety and potential of possible crashes. Some big companies are into this drone tech and they have lobbied hard for getting into the US market, damn the consequences.

      • Stimpson says:

        Agreed, just because it’s not as bad doesn’t mean it’s good. My comment was intended as a shot at U.S. drone-attack missions overseas.

        • Krell says:

          Great link, Mike. Our drone policy overseas is nothing short of war crimes and I totally agree that privacy concerns about domestic drones may seem trite to those villages being blown apart by missiles. But for some reason a lot of Democrats don’t seem to have a problem with a President ordering “hits” even if it kills a few innocents along the way. Foreign or domestic use should be banned in my opinion.

  2. Well, I think it’s outrageous. Our rights and freedoms have been stripped. One begins to entertain the idea of taking down this govt… brick by brick…. done by drone…. corrupt congess and senate to white house. While it’s just the anger or angry thought…. the idea that we are living in a poisoned, managed world where we are slowly being cattle called into slave wagery and goddess knows what else…. test subjects? Who the fuck knows any longer. It’s gone way too far. People in this part of the world will begin to explore ways to take em out… lots of bangers down here. Be interesting to see how it evolves. Would that we might find some decent leadership.

    • Krell says:

      Ya.. I’m interested as well. There will be attempts at “taking them out” as well as accidents of the drones crashing when the operator looses control. Loss of operational control happens already with the Drones quite frequently.

      Will the operator of the drone be responsible for the damage that the drone crash causes?

  3. dana says:

    I agree with Mike. I think we are so caught up in our cushy lives and panicking about all the rights we do have when actual families are getting snuffed out by these. Seriously, do we care if they can see us watching The Bachelor? Well maybe, but it is almost arrogant to me to worry about unmanned drones flying over me when I sit here with a remote to a TV and laptop on my bed viewing the world through my blackberry. I could easily worry about a drunk pilot crashing through the roof or the lives of families these drones are really killing.

    • Krell says:

      I’m finding these comments surprising. So you really do not have a problem with drones flying overhead and surveillance of wide areas of public space?
      Don’t have anything to fear if you’re not doing anything wrong?

    • Krell says:

      This was a commentary by Bruce Schneier called “The Eternal Value of Privacy”

      Two proverbs say it best: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? (“Who watches the watchers?”) and “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

      Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” Watch someone long enough, and you’ll find something to arrest — or just blackmail — with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies — whoever they happen to be at the time.

      Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

      We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.

      A future in which privacy would face constant assault was so alien to the framers of the Constitution that it never occurred to them to call out privacy as an explicit right. Privacy was inherent to the nobility of their being and their cause. Of course being watched in your own home was unreasonable. Watching at all was an act so unseemly as to be inconceivable among gentlemen in their day. You watched convicted criminals, not free citizens. You ruled your own home. It’s intrinsic to the concept of liberty.

      For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that — either now or in the uncertain future — patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.

      How many of us have paused during conversation in the past four-and-a-half years, suddenly aware that we might be eavesdropped on? Probably it was a phone conversation, although maybe it was an e-mail or instant-message exchange or a conversation in a public place. Maybe the topic was terrorism, or politics, or Islam. We stop suddenly, momentarily afraid that our words might be taken out of context, then we laugh at our paranoia and go on. But our demeanor has changed, and our words are subtly altered.

      This is the loss of freedom we face when our privacy is taken from us. This is life in former East Germany, or life in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. And it’s our future as we allow an ever-intrusive eye into our personal, private lives.

      Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

      The expectation of privacy is not about being arrogant or some other feeling of being special. The expectation of privacy is about the basic human condition. Those that are willing to give it up so non-chalantly do not fully understand the repercussions.

  4. Billlie Louise Jones says:

    Why are so many of those tags in the South?

  5. Jenelle says:

    I’m totally freaked out by surveillance drones. The minute anyone says it’s not a big deal is the moment they give up their own privacy. They might as well wear a sign that says ” I don’t care if you know everything about me”. This is exactly how we’ve ended up were we are….little by little our privacy has been removed because ppl aren’t paying attention or don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s a REALLY big deal. There a lot of talk about sovereignty of the nation yet ppl are willing to give up personal sovereignty? I find drone warfare, whether they’re dropping bombs or “watching” us, represents a very dark tragic horrifying world to come.

    • Krell says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Jenelle. The moment that all privacy is lost is the moment that dissent isn’t possible without reprecussions and it will quickly become a very dark world indeed.

  6. Jack Jodell says:

    Thanks for this alert. I had no idea, and it is truly an outrage, but to be expected in this military/industrial country we now live in.

  7. dp1053 says:

    It was only a matter of time until the technology came home. Wars are the testing grounds, as soon as they started deploying these overseas, you had to know on some level they would find an excuse to use them in the ‘homeland’ (I hate that word, reminds me of Nazis…guess that’s appropriate now). Get your heads out of the sand, folks, won’t be long before they come up with a reason to arm them, probably after a few get shot down by inner-city gangbangers or good ol’ boys using them for target practice. When that happens, I hope I’m long dead, just like Amerika will be.

    Wonder if Canada will grant asylum?

  8. Jess says:

    I’m telling you anywhere but here is looking good right now. Can we just go invade Canada and live there pretty please? Oh and for all you dads here, have a very happy day tomorrow and here’s a hug through the tooby things from me. {{{{{big hugs}}}}}}}

    • Krell says:

      Thanks Jess. Got to this comment a little late but still appreciated.
      Hope you had a good one on Fathers day as well. ( I know, you’re not a father but you know what I mean.)

  9. Hello All,
    I have one up on everyone with reguards to this subject, because a U.S. Navy drone has already crashed in Dorchester County, Maryland, where my home is located.
    Your predictions and fears have already come true.

    Local News Artical below:
    “A Navy drone crashed this afternoon in a marsh on the Eastern Shore of Maryland – causing no injuries or property damage. Navy officials say the remotely piloted Global Hawk was on a routine training flight from Patuxent River when it crashed around noon near Bloodsworth Island in Dorchester County Monday at about 12:11 P.M. along the banks of a tributary of the Nanticoke River in Dorchester County, Marylnad. No word on what caused the crash.”

    Wall Stree News Artical below:
    “A highflying surveillance drone being tested by the Navy crashed Monday in eastern Maryland, the military said.

    The Navy said in a statement that a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator, or BAMS-D, unmanned aircraft went down around midday in a swampy area near Bloodsworth Island, in Dorchester County.

    No casualties were reported, Petty Officer Jonathan Lindberg, a Coast Guard spokesman, said. “We have a boat out there, and they are establishing a 500-yard safety zone around where it crashed,” he said.

    The aircraft was one of five Global Hawk drones the service acquired from the Air Force to test as high-altitude maritime surveillance aircraft. The $100 million craft, which is unarmed, can carry a range of payloads, from sophisticated cameras to eavesdropping equipment.

    Global Hawks have flown reconnaissance missions over war zones in Afghanistan and Libya, and surveyed the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Last year, the U.S. military used the pilotless aircraft to monitor a stricken nuclear reactor in Japan. The Air Force has stationed Global Hawks in both the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.”

    • Krell says:

      Wow! That is a little close to home. The Global Hawk is one of the top drones in the Pecking order, as you mention @ 100 million a pop.

      Drones crashing are going to be a big problem. Losing control of Drones are quite common for the operators but you get a lot more leeway when it’s in
      the middle of the desert.

      I suspect a lot of energy is going to be put into “damage control” and keeping any bad news about drones out of the national news.

  10. Teame Zazzu says:

    TZ has been aggressively fighting to stop Wide Area Persistent Surveillance (WAPS) or Wide Are Motion Imagery (WAMI) from being used for domestic surveillance in the USA on platforms such as the Blue Devil and other drones. Recently, many of the Universities and private contractors involved in the development of ARGUS and the Gorgon Stare have gone public to reveal the Gigapixel camera and the fact that it is commercially available (for bird-watching? ;). Readers can now browse a WAMI data set and practice stalking civilians at http://release.pixia.com/wami-js-player/

    Even more dangerous for civil liberties are the PerSEAS (DARPA program) and PerMIATE software (Kitware, inc.) that make all vehicles and pedestrians movements automatically searchable via converting all movement into “tracklets” or chronographs that generate comprehensive geo-tagged location data as well as 24/7 drone coverage. This software can even track pedestrians in them WAMI data (http://www.isvc.net/Asari.pdf)

    Now even CORPORATIONS will have the power to 24/7 stalk citizens as DRAGNET AUTOMATIC COMPUTER TRACKING can be applied to entire cities! PIXIA Inc. has just announced the COPSS program and released its HIPER STARE demo for COMMERCIAL and LAW ENFORCEMENT use. If the idea of local police having this capability is frightening, imagine now that Corporations like the News of the World and Rupert Murdock with able access to this data and abusing it for political influence.


    Commercially Operated Persistent Surveillance Solution (COPSS). COPSS provides customers a commercial turnkey solution to Wide Area Motion Imagery (WAMI) collection, processing and dissemination. A low-cost daily pricing model provides a rapid access, end-to-end commercial solution for public and private sector customers such as law enforcement, border patrol, federal emergency management officials and private companies. (http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20111027006068/en/PIXIA-PV-Labs-partner-COPSS-%E2%80%93-%E2%80%98Your)

    The general public seems completely unaware that this capability exists or that DARPA military tech is now available for hire by anyone who wants to spy on entire cities or individuals without a warrant and for profit. This technology is the equivalent of having a private investigator follow you around with a video camera and document your every move!! It is a gross violation of privacy and an existential threat to a liberal democracy! PLEASE help raise awareness about this dangerous development. Thank you for all your efforts.

    • Krell says:

      Some absolutely incredible links that you provided. Incredibly scary I might also add. Public awareness about this complete situational awareness with constant surveillance is a must. People are just not aware of the technology that will destroy all privacy, or what’s left of it.

      By the way…
      A group that has a mission statement such as this has gotta be cool!
      Dedicated to all forms of EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS, specializing in Zombie-apocalypse contingencies, drone robot warfare, search and evacuation procedures, and post-apocalypse luxury living.