Does Your Local Police Department Have a Drone?

How Far Away Is Total Surveillance

Not too long ago, unmanned drones were the stuff of science fiction.

In the last couple of years, that’s all changed.

At the turn of the century, the military began using unmanned, unarmed drones to provide air support for military operations. And not long after September 11, 2001, the CIA began using drones for spying.

But then the government began arming drones. Today, armed drones make targeted strikes against terrorists and terrorist camps in other countries. Some of their targeting has been very precise. But some has been hit-and-miss, resulting in civilian casualties.

We’re now entering a new era of drone usage… the domestic era. In the space of just a few months, drones have gone from being military and intelligence assets to being something that local law enforcement and even local businesses are using in our own skies here at home.

Eyes in the Sky

Law enforcement agencies all around the country are putting drones into the skies. Currently, more than 80 individual agencies are on record as using drones or seeking permission to use them.

Even more alarming, some law enforcement agencies would like to arm their drones.

Drones can certainly be useful to support specific operations. But imagine if this type of thing became routine. If the government is watching and recording every public move, think how that would change our culture. Freedom of expression … peaceful political protest … innovative thinking … they would all suffer.

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Predator drones are the model that most people think of when they think of drones. Most of the drones employed by law enforcement agencies are smaller and lighter than Predator drones. But that doesn’t mean law enforcement agencies don’t ever use the bigger, beefier drones.

Just last year, North Dakota police made an arrest with the assistance of a Predator drone … the first arrest of its kind.

Commercial Drones?

Private companies don’t have FAA permission to use drones. But that will change soon. Congress has required the FAA to create a plan for integrating drones into U.S. airspace by September 2015.

After that happens, you can expect that it won’t just be the government watching you from above.

Businesses are looking forward to employing drones to monitor the environment and assist with research projects. Drones can create 3D maps. And come in handy for search and rescue operations. And of course, companies like Amazon are hoping that drones will revolutionize shipping and product delivery.

You have to wonder, though, as businesses begin using drones, how many will use them for surveillance in the name of market research?

It’s Time to Speak Up, and Speak Out

The use of domestic drones will continue to rise. You can count on it … especially as new technologies give them added capabilities.

For example, a new model of drone — not yet released — can hack into smart phones from the air. It can steal the same kind of data that the NSA gathers in its dragnet operations. They can even swipe website log in passwords.

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Other scientists are working to combine 3D printing technology with drones. One proposed application for this technology would give drones the capability of “building” a “nest.” The drones could rest and recharge on their own before continuing with their mission. A capability like this will greatly extend the range and data gathering capabilities of drones.

The good news is that we’re still early in the adoption cycle for the domestic use of drones. All over the country, people are speaking out to their local and state officials about restrictions on drones. And they’re gaining ground.

In Charlottesville, VA, the city council passed a law against using drones to gather evidence in criminal cases. The city doesn’t even own a drone, but they’re concerned about future privacy issues.

In Seattle, the Mayor grounded the police department’s two drones. Now the Seattle PD plans to return them to the manufacturer.

And Congress is currently reviewing a bill that would require law enforcement to produce a warrant before drones could be used for targeted surveillance.

If your local city or state is considering drones or already using them, you really can make a difference. Write a letter to your local representatives or call their offices to voice your opinion on the matter.

Drone policies are still in the formative stages… for now. Take this opportunity to make sure your voice is heard.

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