US Drone Operations Expand…to the USA

A secret air show in Houston. An unmanned blimp in Utah. A sovereign citizen arrested in North Dakota.

Each of these is just one small part of the bigger story of the proliferation of unmanned aircraft use within the U.S., and each is likely to become smaller still if the FAA goes through with plans to loosen regulations governing domestic use of drones.

News reports about Predator attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are common if not always complete, but what’s gotten much less attention is the increase in unarmed drones that are buzzing around within the U.S. itself. Primarily, unarmed Predator B drones are only used by government agents to patrol the borders for illegal immigrants, but there are a (very large) handful of other agencies and companies that use smaller, unarmed drones for a slew of other purposes. And that number is only expected to grow.

The FAA says that as of September 13, 2011, there were 285 active Certificates of Authorization (COA) for 85 different users, covering 82 different unmanned unarmed aircraft types.

Though the exact breakdown of the organizations who have authorization is unclear — and the FAA would not elaborate for “privacy” and “security” reasons — in January the Washington Post reported that as of December 1, 2010, 35% of the permissions were held by the Department of Defense, 11% by NASA, and 5% by the Department of Homeland Security. The FBI and law enforcement agencies also hold some, as do manufacturers and even academic institutions.

Between pressure from trade groups (like the drone manufacturers group the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), proposed legislation from Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to expand the number of drone testing sites in the U.S., andpetitioning from states like Oklahoma for an approved 80-mile air corridor reserved exclusively for drone development and testing, there is great potential for drone use to expand within the U.S. in the next few years.

Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA, says that there are currently two types of authorizations — one for public operations, as in state and local governments, and one for private entities. In each case, the application process involves telling the FAA what type and where and when aircraft will be flown, so the agency can determine if it can ensure the safety of other aircraft. Dorr said that next month the FAA hopes to propose new, looser rules for use of small unarmed Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) because “that’s where the demand is.”

READ THE WHOLE STORY HERE

1 Comment

  1. Rwolf

    October 26, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Without a Warrant: Police Drones—Recording Telephone & Private Conversations In Your Home & Business To Forfeit Property?

    It is problematic local police will want to use drones to record without warrants telephone and private conversations inside Americans’ homes and businesses: Despite some U.S. cities and counties banning or restricting local police using drones without warrants to invade citizens’ privacy, local police have a strong financial incentive (Civil Asset Forfeiture) to use their drones or Federal Drones. Should (no-warrant) drone surveillance evidence be allowed in courts—circumventing the Fourth Amendment, for example drones covertly recording private conversations and electronic communications in Citizens’ homes and businesses, expect federal and local police Civil Asset {Property Forfeitures to escalate. Civil asset forfeiture requires only a mere preponderance of civil evidence for federal government to forfeit property, little more than hearsay: Any conversation, phone call or other electronic communication captured by a drone inside a home or business, police could take out of context to initiate arrests and civil asset forfeitures to confiscate a home, business and related assets. Local police now circumvent state laws that require someone first be convicted of a crime before police can civilly forfeit their property—by referring their investigation to a Federal Government Agency that may legally rebate to local police up to 80% of assets the Feds forfeit. Federal Government is not required to charge anyone with a crime to civilly forfeit property. There are more than 350 laws and violations that can subject property to state and federal government asset forfeiture in addition to illegal drug forfeiture laws. Increasingly local police are paid part or all their salary from proceeds realized from civil and criminal asset forfeiture. Police have to confiscate Citizens’ property to keep their job. This is a clear conflict of interest. At the least, Congress should require the Federal Government prove by Clear and Convincing Evidence that a property is subject to Civil Asset Forfeiture, not a mere preponderance of civil evidence, little more than hearsay.

    The passed Federal “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000” effectively eliminated the “five year statue of limitations” for Government Civil Asset Forfeiture: the statute now runs five years (from the date) police allege they “learned” an asset became subject to forfeiture. It is foreseeable should (no warrant) government-drone electronic surveillance be admissible in courts, police will relentlessly sift through Citizen and businesses’ (drone captured emails, Internet data, private conversations and phone communications seized on private property in hopes of discovering crime or civil violation to cause arrests and property forfeitures. It is problematic without public oversight, a corrupt U.S. Government agency or local police, may use drone no-warrant searches of Citizens’ emails, Internet data and phone call communications to extort and blackmail Americans; sell (no-warrant drone acquired physical and electronic surveillance information) seized from Americans and private businesses.

    Almost every week the media reports police arrested and convicted for selling drugs, extorting drug dealers, falsifying reports to cause arrests; perjury in court. It is foreseeable this kind of corruption will find its way into government / police drone search and seizure of lawful Citizens’ private property to cause arrests and property forfeiture.

    Under U.S. federal civil forfeiture laws, a person or business need not be charged with a crime for government to forfeit their property. Most U.S. Citizens, property and business owners that defend their assets against Government Civil Asset Forfeiture claim an “innocent owner defense.” This defense can become a “Catch 22” criminal prosecution trap for both guilty and innocent property owners. Any fresh denial of guilt made to government when questioned about committing a crime “even when you did not do the crime” may (involuntarily waive) a defendant’s right to assert in their defense—the “Criminal Statute of Limitations” past for prosecution; any fresh denial of guilt even 30 years after a crime was committed may allow Government prosecutors to use old and new evidence, including information discovered during a Civil Asset Forfeiture Proceeding to launch a criminal prosecution. For that reason many innocent Americans, property and business owners are reluctant to defend their property and businesses against Government Civil Asset Forfeiture.

    Re: waiving Criminal Statute of Limitations: see USC18, Sec.1001, James Brogan V. United States. N0.96-1579. U.S. See paragraph (6) at:
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-1579.ZC1.html

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