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|Unmanned aircraft, or drones, are playing an increasingly important role in military campaigns around the world.
Though they are controversial and often blamed for the deaths of civilians, the British military also wants to show people that they save lives too.
The UK says 459 missiles have been fired from its unmanned Reaper aircraft in Afghanistan, with only one civilian recorded killed.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands reports from the Royal Airforce’s drone headquarters in Waddington.
FAA does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop guidelines by 2015 [AFP]
|The US has named six states that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the move of the unmanned aircraft into domestic skies.The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected.Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market.
Many universities are starting or expanding drone programmes.
Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, providing diverse climates, geography and air-traffic environments, Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, said on Monday.
At least one of the six sites will be up and running within 180 days, while the others are expected to come online in quick succession, Huerta said.
The growing US drone industry has critics among both conservatives and liberals.
Giving drones greater access to US skies moves the nation closer to “a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinised by the authorities”, the American Civil Liberties Union declared in a report last December.
Huerta said his agency is sensitive to privacy concerns involving drones. Test sites must have a written plan for data use and retention and will be required to conduct an annual review of privacy practices that involves public comment.
While selecting the sites, the FAA considered geography, climate, ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk. New York’s site will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast US airspace.
Nevada offered proximity to military aircraft from several bases.
In choosing Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of locations in seven climatic zones.
“These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies,” Anthony Foxx, US transportation secretary, said in a statement.
Over the weekend, Heather Linebaugh wrote a powerful Op-ed in The Guardian newspaper lamenting the lack of public understanding regarding the American drone program. Heather should know what she’s talking about, she served in the United Stated Air Force from 2009 until March 2012. She worked in intelligence as an imagery analyst and geo-spatial analyst for the drone program during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here are some key excerpts from her article:
Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I’d start with: “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” And: “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Or even more pointedly: “How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”
Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on. I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first hand.
I knew the names of some of the young soldiers I saw bleed to death on the side of a road. I watched dozens of military-aged males die in Afghanistan, in empty fields, along riversides, and some right outside the compound where their family was waiting for them to return home from the mosque.
What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is not usually clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited cloud and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure. One example comes to mind: “The feed is so pixelated, what if it’s a shovel, and not a weapon?” I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian’s life all because of a bad image or angle.
Moreover, the many civilians being incinerated without a trial are not the only victims here. So are the actual drone operators themselves, many of whom end up committing suicide. Recall my article from December 2012: Meet Brandon Bryant: The Drone Operator Who Quit After Killing a Child. Of course, our so-called political “leaders” never get their hands dirty, other than to take a lobbyist bribe that is. Now more from Heather:
Recently, the Guardian ran a commentary by Britain’s secretary of state for defence, Philip Hammond. I wish I could talk to him about the two friends and colleagues I lost, within a year of leaving the military, to suicide. I am sure he has not been notified of that little bit of the secret UAV program, or he would surely take a closer look at the full scope of the program before defending it again.
Full article here.
Judge orders release of hundreds of heavily-redacted documents
The FBI has been contemplating using aerial surveillance drones since 1995, and are investing heavily in the technology as a cheap and stealthy alternative to manned surveillance aircraft. A new set of documents released by the Bureau—400 heavily-redacted pages of emails, memos and invoices—sheds new light on the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles for federal investigations.
The Bureau has also sought new authority from the FAA, the agency which regulates unmanned aerial flights over the U.S., to “greatly expand the FBI’s potential deployment scenarios for UAVs.”
On October 30, the U.S. District Court in D.C. ordered the FBI to release its drone documents on a rolling basis to Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), which had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in June. While MuckRock and Motherboard’s own requests to the FBI as part of the Drone Census are still in process (and the Bureau is hardly eager to release anything), the 431 pages of documents offer a more authoritative and exhaustive view of the Bureau’s investigations into and deployments of drone technology than ever before.
Presentation slides from the FBI’s Operational Technology Division indicates that the agency’s interest in drones dates back to 1995, when researchers “experimented with model helicopters and model planes but discarded the program as it did not prove to be a useful surveillance tool.”
The FBI’s Technical Response Team researched UAVs more aggressively beginning in 2003, but a white paper explains that, before 2005, “UAVs available were either too large or too expensive to meet FBI requirements.”
Invoices confirm that the FBI made its first drone purchase in September 2005. The Justice Department Inspector General reported in September that the FBI had spent $3 million on drone technology, maintenance and software through May 2013, but all quantities, model numbers and dollar amounts are redacted in the released purchase documents.
March 2013 emails indicate that the FBI has seen an “increase in funding” due to a “need for more UAVs.”
Like all government agencies, the FBI must apply for authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration prior to deploying drones. While the FAA so far has released authorization documents back to 2009, an email from the chief of the Tracking Technology Unit claims that the Bureau’s “first operational deployment was in October 2006.”
In a July letter to Rand Paul, the FBI indicated that it had used drones in ten operations since 2006, and that all applications had been approved by the FAA. The FAA has begun releasing its authorization documents on a rolling basis after losing its own lawsuits to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
As of a May 2011 newsletter, the FBI’s UAV Program was “mission ready and fully operational.” In an email that July, the program manager all but begged agents across the country to request drone backup.
“The time is now here and we are offering these services,” the agent wrote to all field office administrators. “We have available several small Unmanned Aerial Systems available for deployment.”
What’s remains murky is precisely what kind of drones they have, the funding source for their drone purchases, and in what ways the FBI’s program has interacted with other federal and local law enforcement agencies.
While it’s well-established that Customs and Border Protection, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, flies unarmed Predator drones along the border, the FBI refuses to detail its the circumstances of their own drone use or the number of agents trained to operate them.
Officials at the FBI have previously indicated the Bureau has relied on drones in cases where agents’ lives are at stake. In February 2011, the LA Times reported that the FBI used a Department of Homeland Security Predator drone based in Grand Forks, N.D., to collect aerial images of the house of Martin Luther King Jr. Day bomber Kevin W. Harpham, which it used to plan the raid that captured him on March 9, 2011. The Bureau also used a drone during an Alabama hostage incident earlier this year.
In a 35-page report released in September by the Justice Department’s inspector general, auditors revealed that the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration have also purchased and tested drones but decided not to deploy them actively. The Justice Department has also awarded at least $1.2 million to local police departments to purchase small drones, said the report. While these drones have not been used in police actions, the auditors found that the Justice Dept. had failed to track exactly how that drone procurement money was spent.
Above, former FBI director Robert Mueller testifying in a Congressional oversight hearing in July
Auditors also found that the FBI had not addressed the danger of violating privacy rights in its use of drones, which have set off alarms among privacy advocates across the country, and led various municipalities to restrict their use. The report said that officials at the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told auditors that there was “no need” to write new privacy guidelines. During an oversight hearing over the summer, the Bureau’s former director Robert Mueller said the FBI was in the “initial stages” of writing privacy policies.
According to the documents, the primary roadblock holding back the FBI’s drone program appears to be FAA approval, but the Bureau is working to eliminate obstacles to wider deployment. While current FAA rules authorize drone flights over particular geographic areas, the FBI has launched a coordinated effort with other law enforcement agencies to set up a blanket approval in domestic airspace, described as a “nationwide, standing Certificate of Authorization for federal law enforcement use, which will greatly expand the FBI’s potential deployment scenarios for UAVs.”
In October, the FBI reported to the court that it had found approximately 2,750 pages of documents on its drone fleet. CREW has indicated that it intends to appeal the FBI’s heavy-handed redaction of all released documents.
Motherboard and MuckRock are continuing to sift through this first release for more specifics on the FBI’s use of drones, including its policies around using unmanned aerial surveillance for tactical missions.
The FBI sent its first batch on November 27, which CREW has put online in full.
Before this release, the only timelines of FBI drone use have been cobbled together from anonymous official statements, Director Robert Mueller’s vague testimony, responses toSenator Rand Paul and reports from Justice Department Inspector General and various federal research offices.
See more from the Motherboard / MuckRock Drone Census
There must be clear policies about the sort of personal information flying drones are allowed to collect before Canadian police and others begin using them on a large scale, warns a new study.
The groundbreaking research report on drones — unmanned eyes in the sky — urges law enforcement agencies, governments and privacy commissioners to work together to ensure civil liberties are respected as more of the miniature craft take to the air.
It says unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, can offer potentially significant cost savings for police and could be useful for responding to emergencies or performing mundane chores.
However, the “potential for intrusive and massive surveillance” means public discussion is needed to reassure Canadians they will not be arbitrarily spied upon, the study concludes.
Ultimately, the federal government “lacks a clear policy” on the devices, it adds.
Study finds many unanswered questions
A copy of the study, to be released next week, was made available to The Canadian Press by authors Christopher Parsons and Adam Molnar of Block G Privacy and Security Consulting.
They sifted through academic articles, court rulings and revealing Access to Information documents, uncovering many unanswered questions about the budding technology along the way.
The devices, which range in size from a bird to a small plane, are usually outfitted with cameras but can also carry thermal imaging devices, licence plate readers and laser radar. They can be potent military weapons and, in peacetime, are used for everything from filming movie scenes and detecting radiation to monitoring crowds and photographing accident scenes.
In Canada, UAVs are regulated by Transport Canada as aircraft under the Canadian Aviation Regulations.
The RCMP is eyeing creation of a national fleet of small helicopter-like drones with cameras to help investigate offences, reconstruct traffic accidents, and assist with search-and-rescue.
The Mounties have said they are not being used for general surveillance of people or vehicles.
‘Keen interest’ from Canadian police forces
The study notes keen interest from Canadian police forces, but says law enforcement agencies have not “sought feedback from the public on how UAVs should or should not be adopted as a tool to serve the public interest.”
The authors also cite safety and security concerns, including the potential for crashes or even the hacking of a drone to intercept the data it is collecting or make it steer off course.
Among the study’s recommendations:
— Police should engage in “wholesome consultations” with the public on the privacy implications of drones;
— Establishment of a provincial-federal working committee to develop drone policy for Canadian police;
— Creation of policies that spell out the sort of information drones can gather, how long it kept, the way it may be shared and how people can learn whether they have been spied upon.
“The time for such well-balanced policy making is now,” the study says.
Federal privacy watchdog ‘closely following’ expanded use
In her recent annual report, federal privacy commissioner JenniferStoddart notes that National Defence uses drones “in field operations outside Canada” while the National Research Council has planned limited trials with the aim of improving navigation.
A late 2012 poll conducted by Stoddart’s office found that four out of five people surveyed were comfortable with police use of drones for search-and-rescue missions.
But only two of five approved of their use in monitoring public events or protests.
“Considering the capacity of UAVs for surreptitious operation, the potential for the technology to be used for general surveillance purposes, and their increasing prevalence — including for civilian purposes — our office will be closely following their expanded use,” says the annual report.
“We will also continue to engage federal government institutions to ensure that any planned operation of UAVs is done in accordance with privacy requirements.”
- New rules urged over FBI drone use (bbc.co.uk)
- Domestic drones aren’t new: the FBI has used them since 2006 (techi.com)
- Justice Department spent nearly $5M on drones (cbsnews.com)
- Jacob Chamberlain – ACLU Slams DOJ Over Unchecked Drone Program (prn.fm)
- Another drone strike in South Waziristan, 7 killed (thehindu.com)
- Investigation to record victims of US drone attacks in Pakistan (thistleanddrone.wordpress.com)
- Drone studies mushrooming in the US (dronefocus.com)
- Cyberattacks a sign of China’s drone ambitions (kansas.com)
- Embry-Riddle offers master’s degree in drones (miamiherald.com)
- Canadian navy loses drone in hostile waters: report (cbc.ca)
- Dawn of the Drone Wars (gulagbound.com)
- Is The U.S. Drone Program Fatally Flawed? (npr.org)
- There is No Right to Privacy by Walter Block (musicians4freedom.com)
- Drone Mosquitoes? U.S. Companies Developing Tiny Surveillance Devices to Snoop Inside Homes (dxmediapro.wordpress.com)
- FBI admits to flying drones over US without warrants (usahitman.com)
- It’s a Welfare Warfare State (theburningplatform.com)
- Focus on Canada (droninglawyer.com)
- FBI uses drones in U.S., says FBI Director (usahitman.com)
- Colorado town considers licensing bounty hunters to shoot down drones (dailypaul.com)
- The Drone That Killed My Grandson (libertyblitzkrieg.com)
- Obama is Called a “War Criminal” & “Hypocrite of the Century” in Irish Parliament (libertyblitzkrieg.com)
- Liberty University, Sojourners and Drones (juicyecumenism.com)