Monday, April 29, 2013

Should drones be used as a law enforcement surveillance tool?

Courtesy of RealClearPolitics.
This is scary news from the FAA:

The heavens will soon be thick with drones.

That, at least, is the confident expectation of the Federal Aviation Administration and a slew of states and companies competing for a coveted designation as one of six U.S. sites that will test the capability and safety of unmanned aircraft. The FAA anticipates there will be at least 10,000 of these aircraft in the domestic skies by 2020.

The promoters of drones avoid calling them by that name, preferring the duller technical description of “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs. That’s because “drone” to most people means the deadly remote-controlled missile launcher that is the Obama administration’s weapon of choice in waging war on terrorists. Even before their current military use, drones were a staple of science fiction, often as spy vehicles and sometimes as something much more sinister.

Nick Palatiello, spokesman for the Reston, Va.-based Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS), decries what he calls this “movie image” and observes that unmanned aircraft are useful in mapmaking, mining, agriculture, forestry and scientific research.

A farmer, for instance, might be able to improve crop yields by monitoring his fields to see if they are being devoured by insects or sufficiently watered. In the view of Palatiello and Kyle Snyder of the NextGen Air Transportation Center at North Carolina State University, such beneficial uses of unmanned aircraft do not violate privacy. “Corn doesn’t care,” Snyder said.

Civil libertarians on both left and right do care, especially about using drones to track suspected criminal activity, including potential terrorism. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis expressed interest in using drones for surveillance purposes at next year’s race.

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