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Hullabaloo


Thursday, October 01, 2015

 

No privacy issues here. Drone along.

by Tom Sullivan

Both Digby and I have written about the growing drone industry before with some reservation. A nightmare for civil liberties? Privacy issues? Aw, c'mon, but they are so cewl! Everyone will want one for Christmas this year:

You’re probably getting a drone for Christmas this year, whether you want one or not. Aviation Week reports that, at a recent industry summit, Rich Swayze of the Federal Aviation Administration said that the agency expects up to 1 million unmanned aerial vehicles to be sold during this year’s holiday season. Swayze’s prediction, if true, is simultaneously great and terrible news for the drone industry. It’s great news because, hooray, money! It’s terrible news because some of these drones will be gifted to kids, and idiots, and others who know and care little for safety and decorum.

Justin Peters has a series at Slate called Future Tense that looks at drones. The project supported by the Omidyar Network and Humanity United includes a drone primer from sponsor New America here. Everybody is so excited about what they'll get for Christmas that still no one seems worried about a fleet of military surveillance drones in our airspace.

As we have noted before, and as the Washington Post reported last year, the military is planning to fly its large fleet of military drones from 144 U.S. sites. If the Air Force gets its way, the Reapers will soon be sharing the friendly skies with your mother's flight to Cleveland. "With my flight to Cleveland," another blogger exclaimed at a conference last weekend:

Shortly after the day’s final bell rang and hundreds of youngsters ran outside Lickdale Elementary School with their book bags and lunchboxes, a military drone fell from the sky.

The 375-pound Shadow reconnaissance drone skimmed the treetops as it hurtled toward the school in Jonestown, Pa. It barely missed the building, then cartwheeled through the butterfly garden and past the playground. The aircraft kept rolling like a tumbleweed and collided with a passing car on Fisher Avenue. People called 911. The rescue squad arrived in a hurry. Luckily, no one was hurt.

The April 3 near-disaster was the latest known mishap involving a military drone in the United States. Most U.S. military drone accidents have occurred abroad, but at least 49 large drones have crashed during test or training flights near domestic bases since 2001, according to a yearlong Washington Post investigation.

The Shadow is one of the smaller drones the military flies. The Global Hawk has a wingspan greater than a 737's. But the public is so fascinated with the GoPro-equipped, Chinese toys that they won't pay attention to the military drones until one actually crashes into a school.

But beyond kids and idiots...

Since issuing draft rules for flying domestic drones in February, the FAA began issuing exemptions, requiring commercial operators to attest the flights pose no threat to privacy. Barry Summers (http://reaperscomehome.blogspot.com/) noticed Exemption No. 11555 for the Wilson Security Agency, a private detective agency in Lexington, North Carolina.

In its application Wilson seems to have cribbed from Exemption 11460 by manufacturer American Drones, L.L.C. of Oklahoma City, whose name appears nine times in the Wilson Security application.

Privacy issues? This is from American Drones' application:

And here's Wilson's:

No privacy worries there. The private detective agency will operate its drone "only in rural areas."

Status? Approved.