The eye in the sky. AR Parrot Drone (via ARdrone)
We are slowly moving through times that will decide whether technology leads us to a utopian society or a dystopian future. Ever since I was a little boy I wanted to have a remote control airplane. Back in the day they were not something you could but at toy’s R us, but today, for $300, you can buy an AR drone that flies more like a military helicopter.
Consumers aren’t the only ones buying these. Just a few days ago, an organization called Muckrockers, dedicated to tracking the government’s use of drones, discovered that the Maine Police Department had purchased toy drones with the intent of testing them as surveillance or reconnaissance tools.
Something the MPD was not aware of was that drones flown by most government agencies must first acquire Certificates of Authorization by the FAA. To the appeasement of anti-drone groups, this trial was delayed at least till these permits are acquired.
In Seattle, residents congregated in order to stop drone testing that was planned by their police department. The state of Virginia passed a two-year moratorium on drone surveillance and thirteen other states are voting on similar measures.
Online anti-drone groups have suggested organizing to bring down drones from the sky if or when the government deploys them. Plans include jamming the radio frequencies that control the drones and firing them down with guns or, as some hopeful extremists suggest, with small rocket launchers.
The concern of government surveillance drones clearly spreads beyond public and into government. Republican Rand Paul wrote the freedom from unwarranted surveillance act last year and since then many states have tried to push similar bills.
But the controversy is far from over. No definitive action has been taken by either the legislative or the judicial branch regarding privacy rights and government surveillance. On February 14, the FAA announced that they were allowing the opening of six test centers for civilian drones.
The separation between the federal government and American citizens has never been so obvious. Claiming that terrorists are out to harm the federal government, they are willing to infringe on the privacy of citizens and the executive branch keeps using them to silently kill “terrorists” in wars over seas.
Even if surveillance drones became a reality, is there a way the government could stir up citizen support? It is tough to imagine many people supporting these policing practices without transparency and liability. Under Rand Paul’s anti-drone legislature, citizens would be able to sue the government for any unwarranted surveillance using drones. In the UK, closed circuit surveillance cameras are made to have public access so citizens can conduct their own surveillance.
Even with a transparent system, no one really wants anyone else to spy on them from the sky especially if this information will result in a traffic ticket or someone watching our every move. Furthermore, the issue of who has authority over the database and what they are allowed to do with the information collected would be another mess all together.
One thing is for sure, whether for military or recreational purposes, drones are not going away. A popular drone toy found on Amazon has sold out after some mocking and sarcastic comments were made about the toy and drew attention to it. An Amazon user satirically said, “Nothing teaches my child about how to murder enemy combatants silently and invisibly from the sky with no risk. Teaching our children to be familiar with a silent, faceless killing machine is the way to educate our children about the importance that is war.”
Just this Monday, March 4, a pilot on an Alitalia Flight reported seeing a drone aircraft flying just 5 miles away from Kennedy Airport in New York. The drone was spotted flying at 1,500 ft and came within just 200 ft of the Alitalia airplane.
Some reports say that the drone was just a ‘toy’. Pilots have reported seeing many of these toy crafts flying at 1,500 ft. even though the FAA restricts toy planes to just 400 ft. Although investigations are still underway, there stands a good chance the craft was covered by one of the many permits the FAA has granted universities, police departments and government agencies in the past few years.
If this is the beginning of a dystopian era, lets just hope its like Brave New World where the government gives us soma-like substances. Keep an eye on the sky, they may already be watching you.
I have to admit, they look fun...
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