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Hullabaloo


Thursday, June 18, 2015

 

"A nightmare for civil liberties"

by Tom Sullivan

The FAA, drone opponents, and Amazon.com testified Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on a proposed rule for opening the national airspace to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Clogging the air with drones both large and small, private, commercial, police, and military poses a logistical, regulatory, and privacy challenge. Or maybe a nightmare.

People poised to make money off the commercial technology want their licenses now, and they think the FAA is taking too long to think. The military and the FAA's NextGen program have been at odds over delays in adapting its proposed, new air traffic control system to include a fleet of military drones it was not designed for. A single U2 spy plane flying in and out of Los Angeles air space last year crashed the local traffic control system. But whateva. Reapers gotta reap and Predators gotta prey.

Most of the focus yesterday was on how soon an Amazon drone will be able to deliver a six pack to your doorstep for the big game. (And it's still cold!)

The Guardian reports:

The limitations of the licenses would hurt Amazon, the company’s vice-president of global public policy, Paul Misener, told Congress. Misener said his company was actively working to make drone delivery a reality and that the rule’s restriction on operating drones out of the user’s line of sight would hamper progress. “Our respectful disagreement with the FAA is that we believe that kind of operation can be considered right now,” he said.

Harley Geiger of the Center for Democracy and Technology warned the assembled legislators that they must heed privacy concerns before making the skies free for drones.

“Here is a nightmare scenario for civil liberties: a network of law enforcement UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] with sensors capable of identifying and tracking individuals monitors populated outdoor areas on a constant, pervasive basis for generalized public safety purposes. At the same time, commercial UAS platforms record footage of virtually anyone who steps out of her home, even if the individual remains on private property. This may seem an unlikely future to some. However, few existing laws would stand in the way, and the public does not yet trust the discretion of government or the UAS industry to prevent such scenarios from approaching reality,” he said.

Clearly an alarmist, that last guy. I mean, beer. Oh, right.

Persuant to the directives of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the agency named six centers across the country for testing the integration of UAS into the national airspace. The FAA also established a National Center for Excellence, a consortium of over a dozen university drone research programs based at Mississippi State University:

The Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) is supposed to help the FAA find ways to safely combine drones with current manned aircraft.

The research areas initially will include technology to allow aircraft to detect and avoid each other, how to fly safely at low altitudes, and how to work with air traffic control.

The National Center for Excellence is headed up by Maj. Gen. James O. Poss (ret.), who in 2011 talked up using drones equipped with a really neato electronics pod called Gorgon Stare for surveilling entire cities:

With the new tool, analysts will no longer have to guess where to point the camera, said Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, the Air Force's assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we're looking at, and we can see everything."

But that could never happen in the land of the free when the Reapers come home. Oh, right.

In other drone news:

Forty-five former US military personnel, including a retired army colonel, have issued a joint appeal to the pilots of aerial drones operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere, calling on them to refuse to carry out the deadly missions.

In a joint letter, the retired and former military members call on air force pilots based at Creech air force base in Nevada and Beale air force base in California to refuse to carry out their duties. They say the missions, which have become an increasingly dominant feature of US military strategy in recent years, “profoundly violate domestic and international laws”.

“At least 6,000 lives have been unjustly taken by US drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines, Libya and Syria. These attacks are also undermining principles of international law and human rights,” the authors write.

But, you know, beer.

(h/t Barry)