Okla. seeks to be target for drone payload

In this photo provided by Jamey Jacob, an unmanned aerial vehicle flies at the unmanned aircraft flight station at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla., on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. With an established graduate program at OSU and a competitive bid with about two dozen other states to become a federally designated testing facility for drones, Oklahoma is positioning itself to become a hotbed for this booming sector of the aerospace industry. Photo: Jamey Jacob, AP / Jamey JacobWhether it’s in the skies above Oklahoma State University or the Fort Sill Army Post in the southwest part of the state, unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, are becoming more commonplace over Oklahoma as the state positions itself to become a hotbed for this booming sector of the aerospace industry.

 

Eighteen Oklahoma-based companies already are actively engaged in the industry, OSU has an established graduate program in unmanned aerial systems, and the state is competing with about two dozen others to become one of six federally designated test sites for the drone industry.

 

“My job as governor is to help aerospace and defense continue to thrive in Oklahoma,” Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement. “Unmanned Aerial Systems are a key component to future growth and job creation in these industries.”

 

But with state government pushing to fill the Oklahoma skies with a wide variety of these buzzing vehicles, some civil rights activists are pushing for restrictions on how drones can be used, especially by local law enforcement conducting surveillance.

 

“Our biggest concern is the use of drones for suspicionless surveillance of Oklahomans,” said Ryan Kiesel, the director of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Our top priority is to ensure that the government, before they use drones for surveillance purposes, have probable cause.”

 

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Get Ready for the Invasion of the ‘Civilian-Owned Drone”‘

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… your right to privacy flying away.

By now, damn near everyone has heard about these “drones.” So what are they? Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that are touted for both law enforcement and civilian use, and many states are vying for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) contracts to allow drone testing. And that fact raises another question: What’s the need to use these drones?

Farmers, for example, may use UAVs to monitor their crops, and law enforcement agents may use them for a similar purpose — scouting for marijuana. Drones also have use in situations which would put an FBI agent’s life at risk and can provide stealthy surveillance in hostage situations.

Case in point: Earlier this year, the FBI used a drone to monitor the Alabama bunker where 65-year-old Jimmy Dykes held a 5-year-old boy captive after storming a school bus, shooting the driver, and kidnapping the boy.

Certainly, there are situations in which unmanned surveillance can be extremely useful. However, several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), note that the federally funded drone programs have been pushed through with no regard for citizen privacy and with no safeguards in place to protect our rights.

Still, in light of recent news of NSA surveillance of phone records, email, and electronic communications, it seems that expecting privacy — our constitutional right — may seem a bit too much to ask for in this current climate.

Let’s go back to June, at a Senate Judiciary Committee FBI oversight hearing, when former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III admitted that the FBI had been using drones in law enforcement operations and domestic surveillance since 2006, and that they had spent more than $3 million doing so. Mueller addressed privacy concerns by saying that the agency was in the initial stages of writing privacy policy to ensure that the drones are used in a manner that does not violate constitutional privacy rights.

Yep, you read that correctly. The “initial stages” — some seven years after the FBI began using drones for domestic surveillance. Let’s call that seven years of bad luck for privacy rights.

Congressmen across the nation are encouraging their home states to draft privacy laws regarding drone use. In Oklahoma, Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, has joined forces with the ACLU to introduce House Bill 1556, which is intended to set limits and guidelines for the use of drones in his state. While the measure passed House Committee last year, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin urged Wesselhoft to hold the bill, citing concerns over whether the measure would impact the state’s application for UAV testing and development funding.

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Illinois Drone Regulation Bill Signed Into Law By Gov. Pat Quinn

illinois drone regulationIllinois on Tuesday became the latest state to institute regulations of law enforcement’s use of drones.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Biss, a Democrat, was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, the Associated Press reports.

The legislation will require law enforcement to get a search warrant before they can legally collect information using sophisticated, unmanned “drone” aircraft. Exceptions carved out by the law are made for when the Department of Homeland Security deems drone surveillance is needed to thwart a terrorist threat.

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Drone use tightly limited for Texas residents, but new law makes big exception for police

A hobbyist using a remote-control airplane mounted with a digital camera just happened to capture images last year of a Dallas creek running red with pig’s blood. It led to a nearby meatpacking plant being fined for illegal dumping and two of its leaders being indicted on water pollution charges.

Yet, a Texas law that took effect Sept. 1 tightened rules not on polluters but on taking such photographs, an effort to better protect private property from drone surveillance.

More than 40 state legislatures have debated the increasing presence of unmanned aircraft in civilian airspace, with most of the proposals focused on protecting people from overly intrusive surveillance by law enforcement.

But Texas’ law tips the scales in police favor — giving them broad freedoms to use drones during investigations and allowing them to bypass a required search warrant if they have suspicions of illegal activity — while also limiting use of small drones by ordinary residents.

“Texas is really the outlier,” said Allie Bohm, an advocacy and policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The law makes using drones to capture images of people or property without permission punishable by a fine up to $500, while also allowing those improperly photographed or filmed to collect up to $10,000 in civil penalties if they can show that images were collected or distributed with malice.

Supporters say it makes Texas a national leader in ensuring privacy protections keep pace with technology while curbing possible corporate espionage and other unauthorized snooping. But critics worry it gives police too much leeway while trampling on the constitutional rights of private citizens and media outlets.

Republican state Rep. Lance Gooden said he introduced the bill to address concerns that ordinary Texans could use drones to spy on private property, as well as in response to fears that animal rights groups or environmentalists could keep tabs on livestock ranches or oil pipelines. But he said exceptions were added after law enforcement agencies worried the drone bans would make it difficult to do their jobs.

“We didn’t think that the Constitution gives someone the right to invade someone else’s privacy,” said Gooden, from Terrell, east of Dallas.

Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to provide drones widespread access to domestic airspace by 2015, and the agency predicts that perhaps 7,500 small commercial unmanned aircraft could be operating domestically five years after that.

Seven states have passed drone restrictions nationwide, with measures in Illinois, Florida, Montana and Tennessee mostly protecting individual privacy rights, requiring that law enforcement obtain warrants when using drones or prohibiting images collected from them from being used in court. Virginia, meanwhile, declared a two-year moratorium on drone use by law enforcement so it can study the privacy implications.

Only Texas and Idaho restrict drone use by private citizens as well as public entities, however, and Texas’ broad exception allows police or law enforcement contractors to forgo a search warrant if they “have reasonable suspicion or probable cause.” Other states only waive warrant requirements in cases of catastrophe or terrorist attack.

Lon Craft, director of legislative affairs for the Texas Municipal Police Association, said it still goes too far, though.

“I’m OK if they want to limit citizens, but don’t tie the hands of law enforcement,” said Craft, who said he used to employ drones as part of a narcotics task force in Harris County, which includes Houston.

That use is one of more than 40 exceptions in the Texas law. Others permit drone use anywhere within 25 miles of the U.S. border and by everyone from students conducting scholarly research to real estate brokers taking promotional pictures.

Still, clamor for the law was such that, with time running out to pass bills in the state House in May, a chant of “Drones! Drones! Drones!” filled the chamber. It was approved with more than 100 bipartisan co-sponsors.

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Cost of drones too much for police

Drones

Chances are, a drone won’t find you as you speed down Interstate 55 or drink beer in a public park.

Not because Illinois’ new drone regulations forbid it, but because most of the state’s police departments are too poor to buy a drone.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state’s first drone regulations this week.

But John Kennedy, executive director for the Illinois Chiefs of Police, said people across the state should not worry about an omnipresent eye in the sky.

“No police department in the state has the budget for a drone,” Kennedy said. “No one has the financial capability to fly a drone.”

Chief among the limits, police departments must have a warrant if they want to fly their mini-choppers over private property.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauds the new law.

“This measure demonstrates that it is possible to place appropriate and reasonable guidelines on emerging technologies that ensure privacy for average residents in Illinois,” the state’s ACLU legislative director, Mary Dixon, said in a statement.

Police across the state can dispatch drones to photograph crime scenes, monitor traffic crashes and look for missing people, as well as a handful of other broad exceptions.

Still, Kennedy says, unless the federal government starts offering grants to buy drones, Illinois will remain relatively spy plane free.

“It’s a lot cheaper to park a van (in a construction zone) and take pictures than to fly a drone,” Kennedy said.

If a drone is flying and happens to find crime, he said, officers must get a search warrant or permission to use that evidence.

Before, police did not have to follow those rules if a police helicopter or patrol plane spotted a crime.

“That’s just the way the law is written,” Kennedy explained.

Champaign County is the only of the state’s 102 counties to use a drone.

Sheriff Dan Walsh said he once used what he called “a remote control plane” to look for a missing person.

“I do not see Illinois Sheriff’s using this type of device to violate any 4th Amendment rights and “spy” on particular people,” Walsh said.

Walsh said he’s not planning to buy a drone, though he wouldn’t rule it out in the future.

Illinois Drone Regulation Bill Signed Into Law By Gov. Pat Quinn

illinois drone regulationIllinois on Tuesday became the latest state to institute regulations of law enforcement’s use of drones.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Biss, a Democrat, was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, the Associated Press reports.

The legislation will require law enforcement to get a search warrant before they can legally collect information using sophisticated, unmanned “drone” aircraft. Exceptions carved out by the law are made for when the Department of Homeland Security deems drone surveillance is needed to thwart a terrorist threat.

A Quinn spokesman told NBC Chicago the governor signed the bill — which was approved by the Senate in April and the House in May — to help protect Illinoisans’ right to privacy.

Mary Dixon, legislative director of the ACLU Illinois, applauded Gov. Quinn’s signage of the bill in a Tuesday statement.

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State Officials Argue at AUVSI for Ban on Warrantless UAV Surveillance

Three key associations of state officials are recommending that states pass legislation banning the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance unless the person being tracked has given permission or a warrant has been issued.

The associations also recommended banning UAVs from carrying weapons and emphasizing in state laws that both UAVs and their smaller cousins, model aircraft, be operated in ways that do not “present a nuisance to people or property.”

“Because this technology can use a variety of sensors, and some can potentially loiter for long periods of time without detection, there is concern that government can use these systems to monitor individuals in a way that was not imaged in the Supreme Court 4th Amendment rulings based on the presumption of privacy,” the associations said in a prepared statement.

The prohibition against tracking goes beyond just watching where someone goes, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell told reporters at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2013) conference in Washington on Tuesday (August 13, 2013).

“I think in this instance we’re talking not just about the optical collection of data but collection of data say from picking up WiFi signals or picking up telephone signals and that sort of thing,” said Treadwell, who chairs one of the three groups, the Aerospace States Association (ASA). “One of the unique and new characteristics of UAV technology is its capability for persistence — and with persistence you can . . . collect lots of information. Though if you are collecting it about an individual without their consent, we are saying you need a warrant.”

The recommendations were crafted in response to public demands that limits be placed on UAVs because of concerns over potential privacy abuses.  The outcry has spurred more than 30 states to consider bills limiting the use of UAVs and, as of June, and at least nine have passed legislation, according the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Alaska LtGovernor Treadwell_web.jpg

The NCSL, which worked on the recommendations, is made up of members of the state houses of representatives. They worked with the

ASA and the Council of State Governments, which represents the senate side of state legislatures. ASA, whose members are lieutenant governors from states where aerospace is a key economic element, bring states’ executive branch to the table. Having input from all three branches of state government is likely to improve the chances that the suggested measures will be adopted.

AUVSI, which counts much of the UAV industry among its members, weighed in on the recommendations as well, as did organizations focused on privacy including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Law enforcement provided its views as

well through the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA), and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Alaska Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell

Assembly committee discusses UAV privacy concerns

Legislators and experts hashed out privacy concerns connected to the increased push to integrate commercial unmanned aircraft vehicles into civilian airspace during a committee meeting Tuesday.

The California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee heard testimony from three different panels, including industry experts, law enforcement representatives and privacy advocates from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward) fired off a concern over how the state could regulate the use of unmanned aerial systems once the Federal Aviation Administration completed its task of integrating use of the devices into the national airspace in 2015.

“How do you regulate something like this?” Quirk asked. “The ease with which surveillance can be done is becoming more common.”

Quirk said he understood the positives that commercial UAVs could provide for law enforcement agencies, but expressed concern about potential abuse in private hands.

UAVs – referred to as drones – have largely been utilized by the military and federal government, and to some limited extent by local law enforcement agencies. With the eventual integration into the commercial sector, privacy continues to be a concern.

YangQuan Chen, a professor of engineering from UC Merced, said the goal should be focused more on safety and technology instead of just privacy.

“My belief is that we will find a common ground on matters of privacy,” he said. He said he doubted that the ability to peek inside someone’s home by a neighbor was likely in the near future.

Chen added that there was a distinction between drones and UAVs based on the technology as a whole.

“Drones are less intelligent in terms of autonomy and really lacks sense-and-avoid technology,” Chen said.

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