Coming Home to Roost: Domestic Drones (U.S)
December 3, 2012 7:18 AM   Subscribe

"When most Americans think of surveillance drones, it conjures up an image of a Predator drone in a far-off land unleashing a missile against a terrorist suspect. The last thing they think of is a flying surveillance vehicle over their own city. But an increasing number of federal, state, county and municipal police departments are purchasing drone surveillance vehicles of one sort or another to watch Americans. And a few have even discussed arming the drones." - Drones over America. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to more than double its fleet of Predator drones for surveillance missions inside the United States. Despite Problems, there is a push to expand domestic use. Much of that push comes from a "powerful" lobbying group that most Americans have never heard of: the Unmanned Systems Caucus. Drone Makers Push Congress to Move Up Domestic Deployment Date (follow the money). More? ACLU blog posts related to domestic drones. Here is a Map of Domestic Drone Authorizations, last updated in April. Insiders assure You have nothing to worry about, but a little remarked-upon court decision may bring the domestic drone age one flight closer to your doorstep. (previously)
posted by spock (72 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Anti-drone artist who illegally put up street posters surveilled and arrested.
posted by emjaybee at 7:20 AM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


That map is interesting. I'm kind of shocked at how many authorizations are for universities.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:22 AM on December 3, 2012


Next come the telescreens.

To keep you safe.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:26 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


That map is interesting. I'm kind of shocked at how many authorizations are for universities.

I'm assuming those are for research purposes?
posted by Behemoth at 7:33 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Niven's copseyes -- small hovering public "peacekeeping" drones with remote video feeds and the ability to stun -- seemed at once so futuristic and barbaric it is no wonder that my rational mind just can't wrap itself around the fact that now they are for all intents and purposes real. My brain essentially recoils in horror inside my skull.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:35 AM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


At a recent convention of drone manufacturers, the acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Michael Huerta, said that his department is working tirelessly to “fully integrate” drones into the wider world of civil aviation. This synthesis, Huerta insists, should be accomplished within three years and will bring with it great strides in the federal government’s commitment to guard our nation from threats to our security.

So I guess until you get all the bugs and human error worked out any negative impact on the safety of commercial aviation is just the cost of keeping us safe?
posted by three blind mice at 7:38 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would a strong enough laser blind one of those things?

Just, um, speculating. For public safety. Yeah....
posted by digitalprimate at 7:42 AM on December 3, 2012


I'm assuming those are for research purposes?
That's what I am hoping. Though, I can easily see university police thinking drones would be a nifty way to cover the campus.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:44 AM on December 3, 2012


Pick up that can!
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 7:46 AM on December 3, 2012 [19 favorites]


Look to cannabis farms and grow-ops to be the very first to negate any advantage these drones have, leaving them plenty of time for traffic enforcement and peeking into people's bedrooms when the individuals working for the private companies landing these contracts get bored.
posted by longbaugh at 7:47 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know this makes me a bad person, but I would lovvvvvvvveeee to have a job makin drones!
posted by zscore at 7:47 AM on December 3, 2012


I would assume, digitalprimate, that the FAA's recently strengthened regulations on laser use in airspace would be trivially extended to targeting law enforcement drones. In other words you'd find a FBI helicopter landing on your roof in about five minutes.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:47 AM on December 3, 2012


...unless you used a laser on them too.
posted by longbaugh at 7:48 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is one of those technologies that is co-developing in the private sector at a pretty rapid pace, too. The AR Drone (http://www.ardrone2.com ) is a consumer-level flying HD camera platform that's being marketed as a way to reconnoiter your surroundings with your iPad. Their promotional video leaves many questions regarding how this thing is intended to be used.

Clearly, the AR Drone folks see this sort of "hobby surveillance" as a benign, playful pastime, which seems a tad disingenuous to me, given the obvious capability their little platform has. Frankly, if one of these things approached me as it does people in the video, my first reaction would be to take a baseball bat and smack it's little plastic butt into orbit (although a good-sized butterfly net would allow the capture of some nifty hardware!)

The most practical defense against drones might be something like a High Energy Radio Frequency (HERF) gun, a rather lo-tech microwave gizmo that can toast electronics at a considerable distance.
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 7:53 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Clearly, the AR Drone folks see this sort of "hobby surveillance" as a benign, playful pastime..."

...that may be the necessary reciprocal to state surveillance.
posted by klarck at 7:58 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have often wanted to have my own drone for checking traffic conditions in front of me. It would allow me to ascertain whether there was approaching vehicles on the off side and where appropriate would allow me to nonchalently zoom past my fellow motorists safe in the knowledge that there was nothing oncoming.

It would also allow the use of AGM-114L Hellfire missiles against motorists who refused to move out of my way or acted in any way against my wishes. I see no disadvantages to this and demand that my 2nd amendment rights be acknowledged.
posted by longbaugh at 8:02 AM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Thanks for this post - I was wondering when the next drone thread would show.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:05 AM on December 3, 2012


Behemoth: "I'm assuming those are for research purposes?"

Geologists and biologists have been using them for many years. They're great for surveying remote areas -- they're better in almost every way compared to manned aircraft or satellite imagery.

Back when I was an intern at UAF, a number of my collegaues were working at the Poker Flat Research Range to explore scientific uses of (very small) UAVs. They were very excited about the technology, as the tiny UAVs were a safe, cheap and easy way to gather tons of data that would have previously been very difficult to acquire. Suffice it to say, they eventually came up with a very long list.

I'm not sure if the physicists or meterologists at the facility were using them for anything yet. Those guys were mainly at the facility to conduct experiments with rockets(!) or balloons.

UAVs can be used to do a whole lot of good. I've heard of small cash-strapped fire and police departments using them to quickly provide aerial reconnaissance at the scene of an emergency, and that the technology had already been successfully used to save lives. As long as the Fourth Amendment remains intact, and the FAA continue to be hard-asses on safety, I'm not terribly worried.

Worry about your rights -- not the drones themselves.
posted by schmod at 8:08 AM on December 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


The things about drones is that they have quite a lot of non-creepy uses.

For example, in my town during the fall, we regularly have tens of thousands of people descend on the stadium for games.
Most of these folks park in large, mostly unmanned parking lots and there are numerous car break-ins every game day.
Now, this year, the police have made a concerted effort to patrol the lots, and theft has gone down quite a bit, but the cost of overtime, equipment, etc make doing this a strain on the budget.

But, if you could get a roving eye in the sky, you could probably achieve close to the same success rate while keeping your officers free for the inevitable altercations and more serious crimes.
There are dozens more scenarios like this, where the benefits of cheap surveillance could be felt.

The questions becomes then, besides the obvious creep factor, can our police forces be trusted and to what level?
Most police officers I know are basically decent folks who don't have much desire to peek into innocent people's windows.
These officers I would trust to use drone technology appropriately and safely.

By that, I mean, no autonomous cruising, "spot use" only, human operator at all times, subject to strict civilian review, etc.
Unfortunately, like most new things, we seem to be stumbling into this half-assed and unplanned, with no real vision for how things are going to work.
posted by madajb at 8:09 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


subject to strict civilian review

Thanks, I needed a laugh.
posted by Egg Shen at 8:13 AM on December 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


You are illegally parked on private property. Move your vehicle. You have 20 seconds to comply.
*moves vehicle*
You are illegally parked on private property. Move your vehicle. You now have 15 seconds to comply
*backs up slowly*
You are in direct violation of Penal Code 1.13, Section 9. You have 5 seconds to comply.
*drives like a bat out of hell*
Four... three... two... one... I am now authorized to use physical force! (pursues and opens fire)
*crash*

You are illegally bleeding on the side walk. Move along. You have 20 seconds to comply.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:18 AM on December 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


AnimalNY has an interview with the NYPD drone artist Essam Attia, who the NYPD subsequently arrested.

Anyone seen graphics files for his artwork, preferably the vector originals? They'd make lovely desktop images!
posted by jeffburdges at 8:19 AM on December 3, 2012


The questions becomes then, besides the obvious creep factor, can our police forces be trusted and to what level?
It's the potential for privatization that bugs me. Here in Chicago we have parking meters run by a for profit company which is twice as delightful as it sounds.
The tow truck drivers are legendary for their rapaciousness.
And we have this funky "we can boot your car even though we're not the police" law.

I hear Connecticut has a private contractor going onto private property and booting people's cars they can see from a "public place."

With (private franchised) drone surveillance, that alone is a whole new ball of wax.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:28 AM on December 3, 2012


You are illegally parked on private property. Move your vehicle. You now have 15 seconds to comply...
Your car has been crushed into a cube...You have thirty minutes to move your cube.
posted by obscurator at 8:53 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I guess this makes that invisibility cloth they keep working on more critical than ever, no?

I smell a market opportunity: surveillance/blocking privacy canopies on your yard. Got creepy neighbors? Are you a celebrity tired of paparazzi peeping on you from 10 miles away?
Put up a PrivaScreen in your yard! Combined with a PrivaFence, you can be assured of privacy and safety in your own yard, just like your grandparents enjoyed!

Actually, kind of surprised these don't already exist.
posted by emjaybee at 8:58 AM on December 3, 2012


No, then they'll just equip IR scanners or heat signature detection or some other kind of wave-scanning see-through technology.

Then you'll have to buy the upgraded wave-scanner scrambler.

Then they'll just equip wave-scanner scrambler de-scramblers.

Then you'll have to upgrade to the wave-scanner scrambler de-scrambler scanner...
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 9:18 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the AR.Drone, I was at the Drone Games in San Francisco this weekend, and the first place prize was given to @substack for his project virus-copter. It connects to all the AR.Drone wifi networks it can find (they use unprotected networks) and installs his custom control software, amok.js, which causes the drone to begin flying randomly. (Yes, they can run javascript).
posted by jjwiseman at 9:25 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


In any event, we'll all forget what the night sky looks like soon enough.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 9:26 AM on December 3, 2012


Bentham is jizzing in his grave.
posted by symbioid at 9:45 AM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


When most Americans think of surveillance drones, it conjures up an image of a Predator drone in a far-off land unleashing a missile against a terrorist suspect. The last thing they think of is a flying surveillance vehicle over their own city.

Huh. Actually, that's the first thing I always think of when people talk about drones.
posted by chavenet at 10:00 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bentham is jizzing in his grave.

And Ceiling Cat is watching. From a computer screen in an underground bunker.
posted by kengraham at 10:40 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, how long before laws are passed that protect police drones in a manner similar to those that protect, say, K9 dogs?
posted by bz at 10:45 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


symboid: Bentham is jizzing in his grave.

If I was at University College London, I'd smear mayonnaise on his window and tweet the picture immediately.
posted by dr_dank at 10:58 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those of us who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:10 AM on December 3, 2012


</naive>
posted by spock at 11:18 AM on December 3, 2012


If there's anything Call of Duty has taught me, it is that a well-placed SAM turret can solve many problems. I assume I can pick one up down at my local gun shop?
posted by entropicamericana at 11:19 AM on December 3, 2012


I saw a drone at Costco the other day. My inner geek geeked out for a moment, but my adult brain is not looking forward to the day when there will be swarms of these things flying around my neighborhood.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:24 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


AR Drones are cool, but not very scary unless you live where there is no wind. If a butterfly sneezes, the Parrot is going to be difficult. Also, range of control isn't very far. It's a toy, and it's the easiest hobby flyer I ever wrecked twice. And I suck and repairs.
Edit: spelling
Added: By that I mean, I had lots of fun before wrecking. Last wreck was from inexplicable malfunction resulting in falling to floor. Flying inside a mall.
posted by Goofyy at 12:30 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The most practical defense against drones might be something like a High Energy Radio Frequency (HERF) gun

Combine this with a Directed Energy Radio Frequency gun, and you've got yourself a HERF DERF.
posted by xedrik at 12:30 PM on December 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


When most Americans think of surveillance drones

Most Americans do not think of surveillance drones.

Hence, the problem.
posted by flarbuse at 12:50 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


As long as the Fourth Amendment remains intact...

I suppose living under a rock for at least a decade is a good way to avoid drone surveillance.
posted by eurypteris at 1:11 PM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seems like radio-controlled drones are a great way to collect free electronic equipment if you're into radio. If Iran can do it, surely I can?
posted by Michael Roberts at 2:12 PM on December 3, 2012


I used to do a lot of public works design work in the communities around Los Angeles, including some fairly "unsavory" parts of town. Area lights and bollards in some cases had to literally be bullet-proof, specified with thick polycarbonate lenses - because people would shoot them.

I could see drones attracting a *lot* of attention from certain bored urban dwellers.
posted by Xoebe at 2:26 PM on December 3, 2012


"Those of us who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear."

Except the future abuse of the things of which you currently have no fear.
posted by bz at 2:50 PM on December 3, 2012


The things about drones is that they have quite a lot of non-creepy uses.

if you think you can successfully brand as "creepy" anything with this much power, potential, and capital behind it, i would like to share the deliriants you are consuming

it's far more likely, given the way language works, that objecting to UAV surveillance will be branded (by whomever) as creepy. after all, who but a creep needs to be secretive?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:08 PM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


What are you trying to say, This, of course, alludes to you? Huh? HUH?
posted by symbioid at 4:40 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"It connects to all the AR.Drone wifi networks it can find (they use unprotected networks) and installs his custom control software, amok.js, which causes the drone to begin flying randomly."

Pretty much the only thing worse than a drone being piloted over my house would be a drone flying OUT OF CONTROL over my house.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:56 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


if you think you can successfully brand as "creepy" anything with this much power, potential, and capital behind it, i would like to share the deliriants you are consuming.

"Yeah, they're kinda creepy, but you know, terrorists!" is the conclusion I imagine most people coming to.
posted by madajb at 5:57 PM on December 3, 2012


WTF is going on in this country? Is there anyone who isn't a suspect anymore? Do we have any rights left, or can government agencies and the military just do anything they goddam well please? What exactly has the Dept. of Homeland Security accomplished besides spending a ton of taxpayer money on paranoid pet projects?
posted by nowhere man at 6:25 PM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was at a seminar recently where the use of drones in journalism came up (insert joke here). Apparently it's cheaper than hiring a chopper pilot when you want to photograph Jennifer Aniston's Malibu wedding.
posted by stargell at 8:15 PM on December 3, 2012


Or if you just want to get some video of the rush-hour backup on the interstate or the warehouse fire downtown, I expect.
posted by hattifattener at 9:08 PM on December 3, 2012


Move over clay pigeons, there's a new game in town.
posted by Twang at 9:29 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


As Twang suggests, the new hobby for the 21st century is an old hobby: Skeet shooting!

As for Homeland Security: Accomplishments? Seen any planes flying into buildings lately? Seen any elephants rampaging through your local shopping mall? It works!
posted by Goofyy at 9:41 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thorzdad writes "Though, I can easily see university police thinking drones would be a nifty way to cover the campus."

The only disapproval I see on the map is for the Georgia Tech Police Department.

seanmpuckett writes "I would assume, digitalprimate, that the FAA's recently strengthened regulations on laser use in airspace would be trivially extended to targeting law enforcement drones. In other words you'd find a FBI helicopter landing on your roof in about five minutes."

I wonder how small you can construct a chemically pumped laser? And an obvious solution to the getting caught problem would be autonomous seek and destroy drone hunters. Though a regular old semi auto shotgun would probably be cheaper than a laser and just as effective but you'd have to pay attention to recoil management. I wonder if having the center of mass ahead of and aligned with the recoil vector would be effective.
posted by Mitheral at 10:05 PM on December 3, 2012


Navy Will Have to Wait Before Amassing Its Robo-Copter Fleet
Iran claims capture of US drone
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:30 AM on December 4, 2012


Iran was using a photoshopped picture of a Japanese drone as their "our latest high-tech military device". Reminds me of the doubled up missile launcher pictures from a while back. At this rate I will be hard pressed to believe Iran has nukes because I will simply assume that they've photoshopped in a mushroom cloud from somewhere.
posted by longbaugh at 5:49 AM on December 4, 2012


The problem with intentionally targeting drones for destruction is what happens when you fail to destroy them. If you don't bring that sucker down instantly, then there will be a location/timestamped record of the attempt plus the video/audio associated with it. And what if there is more than one drone? If you don't destroy them all simultaneously, then there's a perfect record of you doing the deed. Really the cops don't like it when you shoot their stuff.

You'd need to come up with a completely anonymous, untraceable drone killing procedure. And then never fail in your attempt to be anonymous and untraceable. Of course, you won't know you've been identified and/or traced until they break down your door. Sounds like a hell of a way to live.

I intensely dislike the notion of law enforcement drones. But destroying the hardware in service is going to be a super fraught task and I wouldn't recommend it except for the most reckless of anarcho-punks.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:07 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, hunting drones for sport could be a big business.

The difficulty would be no different than hosting a porn site and processing the payments. Players put a deposit on a hunter-killer drone and pay for the time to play a real-time first person shooter. Kamikaze your drone and you lose your deposit.

It could be the most popular game on the internet.
posted by warbaby at 10:25 PM on December 4, 2012


I'll laugh when an Iraqi kid hacks into the NYPD drone system to turns a bunch of submachine guns on the unsuspecting cops staging to beat up protestors.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:33 AM on December 5, 2012


California Eyeing Drone Surveillance
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


In other surveillance news: The FBI Is Collecting Everybody’s Emails, Former NSA Official Warns
posted by homunculus at 12:53 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


In other drone news: Google-Funded Drones To Hunt Rhino Poachers
posted by homunculus at 4:49 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


EFF: Newly Released Drone Records Reveal Extensive Military Flights in US
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:26 AM on December 6, 2012


Mother Jones: 8 Drones That Aren't Out To Kill You
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:06 AM on December 6, 2012


2012 Was the Year of the Drone in Afghanistan
posted by homunculus at 11:26 AM on December 6, 2012


Drone crash on college campus in San Diego is art-hoax
posted by homunculus at 3:03 PM on December 6, 2012


Dronestagram: The Drone’s-Eye View - posting the landscapes of drone strikes to Instagram.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:10 PM on December 9, 2012


Air Force May Be Developing Stealth Drones in Secret
posted by homunculus at 2:30 PM on December 9, 2012


I'd be pretty disappointed in the USAF if they weren't.
posted by Mitheral at 7:17 PM on December 9, 2012


The Silence and the Drones
The controversy of the American targeted-killing program, and especially the resurgence of covert paramilitary and military action, has inspired a great deal of concern about the accountability and oversight of America’s supposed new ways of war. Does the lack of risk they offer encourage the Congress, media, and public to stay silent? One of the most prominent scholars of military robotics, P.W. Singer, recently put out an article that reiterated an argument he makes about the decline in the accountability of American wars, as exemplified in the drone program:
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:56 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Volokh Conspiracy: Autonomous Weapons Systems And Their Regulation - A Flurry Of Activity - lots of good links in this one.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:16 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Woes of an American Drone Operator
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:56 AM on December 17, 2012


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