Stay up to date with Current Events from WebLessons, updated every Monday morning. Click Here to view the archive of past articles.
En route to school in the morning, on the way to the baseball game, in the car traveling to the mall, or walking to the local park; have you considered you are under surveillance? Sure we expect to see security cameras perched in buildings and on buses and subways, but what about something that is able to observe you in a bigger range and in a more detailed manner?
Old News or New Technology?
Drones – the term invokes many interpretations and questions. Otherwise known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), drones have existed at least in concept since 1916 when physicist and inventor Archibald Low developed radio guided systems for planes and torpedoes. In World War I, Elmer Sperry along with Peter Hewitt furthered the concept by convincing the U.S. Navy to support the construction and test piloting of automatic airplanes called Curtiss-Sperry Flying Bombs. While they were not used in the war, the objective of remotely driven airplanes had taken root and over the next century, scientists continued to develop the UAV.
In the early 1960s the U.S. Air Force developed rudimentary drones for spying and reconnaissance in China and the Soviet Union. By the Vietnam War, the military had designed and produced effective drones actually used for combat. In 1973, Israel’s military developed the first modern drone, the Hunter and Pioneer UAV, and the U.S. purchased them for use in the Gulf War in the 1990s. Technology advanced at a rapid pace over the past two decades and today the U.S. Military regularly uses drones for a number of military objectives.
Drones in Our Lives
In the past few years, UAVs have crossed over to the commercial side of surveillance, remote sensing, and research. Initially, law enforcement and government organizations were the first to find the drones useful. Recently, the private sector has tapped into the UAV market as well. What does all of this mean for citizens? The answer is neither definable nor simple. The debate is heated and the news is rife with a vast range of perspectives and opinions.
Commercial drones have been used for everything from agricultural research and observation to security monitoring of oil pipe lines; from wildfire detection to television broadcast enhancement; from pollution data collection to furthered conservation efforts - all uses that probably do not garner significant protestation. However, throw in law enforcement, individual surveillance, face recognition systems, license plate scanners, thermal imaging cameras, and even Wi-Fi radars, then the number of concerned citizens climbs.
FAA Civil and Commercial UAV Aerospace Bill
This past February 14, 2012, Obama signed the$63.4 billion Federal Aviation Administration Civil and Commercial UAV Aerospace Bill. Watch the CBS Video news clip for a quick overview. Essentially, this opened the door for integrated commercial and civil use of unmanned aerial drones in U.S. airspace. While the bill makes demands for the provisions and rules for integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in our nation’s airspace, ultimately leading to regulations by air traffic control within the next four years, many politicians and civilians express their concern of this new territory that could, in a way, be an aerospace wild wild west.
It is interesting to note that the Federal Aviation Administration has projected production of 10,000 small unmanned aerial vehicles within five years and up to 30,000 within the next two decades.
Protecting the 4th Amendment?
Read this guide from The Week and this UAV overview from the NY Times for an overview of the domestic issue at the moment. Next, catch up with the national conversation by reading about the demand for domestic drones at the Washington Post and the USA Today article about drones. Now, get ready to jump into the ongoing debate by reading CNN’s special report by Senator Rand Paul (there are also three news video clips included in the article). Next read more about the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act of 2012. Consider also the Washington Times article on a potential ‘spy society’.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect privacy in the online environment, recently filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit regarding drone use. Take a look at the list that they have acquired of public entities that have been authorized by the FAA to fly drones. Examine the map to see drones coming to a city near you soon.
Now that you have an idea of the reasons for UAV speculation, consider the pro side of domestic drone use. This Washington Post editorial presents the use of drones in an objective manner. The Oregonian argues that the privacy issue concerning drones is ‘over blown’. According to USA Today, Floridians are ready to ‘fill its skies with unmanned aircraft’.
As unmanned surveillance systems begin to infiltrate everyday civilian lives, many questions arise. Who controls it? Who manufactures the drones? What are the rules? How is the 4th Amendment protected?
One last example: Tim Pool, the hi-tech journalist who covered the Occupy Wall Street movement, designed and used an aerial surveillance camera, what he called the ‘Occucopter’, to gain live feed coverage of Wall Street events. He simply used a radio controlled helicopter equipped with audio, video, and mobile (including Android and iPhone) devices, effectively creating his own ‘drone’. And he did not need nor use a single warrant or license!