In 90 short days and counting down, it will be smile for the camera flying overhead, American citizens. Perhaps you should buy a baseball cap now to help in hiding your features from eye in the sky drones before buying a hat also becomes another ridiculous "suspicious" potential terrorist activity for SAR databases? Is that taking it too far when drones are capable of almost constant surveillance? The ACLU warned surveillance drones are coming to a police department near you. When the EFF, ALCU and EPIC all sound a red alert warning about Big Brother's prying eyes, if you care about your privacy then it would be wise to heed it.
Those bug-sized spies called Micro Aerial Vehicles, or MAVs, are the next generation of drones as enivisioned by the Air Force in 2008. "The MAVs could be as tiny as bumblebees and capable of flying undetected into buildings, where they could photograph, record, and even attack insurgents and terrorists. U.S. military engineers are trying to design flying robots disguised as insects that could one day spy on enemies and conduct dangerous missions without risking lives."
Other than future flying drone spies the size of a fly, capable of making every moment a "smile you're on candid camera," UAV tracking privacy concerns include mission creep since domestic drone surveillance may make it easier for law enforcement to track citizens than previous warrantless GPS tracking. In an earlier report [PDF], the ACLU predicted the development of advanced surveillance technology in drones to include, high-powered zoom lenses, night vision, see-through walls imaging, video analytics to identify "suspicious" movement patterns, and distributed video drones that can look at an entire city and stay up in the air for two weeks at a time. EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch warned that drones are being used to spy on citizens. "Drones give the government and other unmanned aircraft operators a powerful new surveillance tool to gather extensive and intrusive data on Americans' movements and activities."
Drones can collect huge amounts of data; some are equipped with gigapixel cameras that can "track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet." Don't scoff, take a look at such "crowd captures" and zoom in for serious detail. Some drones need no runway for taking off or landing, can fly more than 12 hours without refueling, and "monitor up to 65 enemies of the State simultaneously." Other drones are equipped with "live-feed video cameras, infrared cameras, heat sensors, and radar" which the EFF said hopefully the "courts will find the ability of drones to monitor our activities constantly, both in public and-through the use of heat sensors or other technology-inside our homes, goes too far."
The Atlantic asked, "If a drone with a zoom lens happens to be cruising by your 100-acre farm and spots you smoking a joint on it, were you in plain sight?" Discovery reported, "The first step comes in 90 days when police, firefighters and other civilian first-response agencies can start flying UAVs weighing no more than 4.4 pounds, provided they meet still-to-be-determined requirements, such as having an operator on the ground within line-of-sight of the drone and flying it at least 400 feet above ground.... By May 2013, the next class of drones, those weighing less than 55 pounds, can fly the nation's skies, according to provisions of the FAA bill passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last week. The deadline for full integration of drones into U.S. airspace is Sept. 30, 2015."
"Are those drones over Boise? Yes." The flip-side of eye in the sky spying on citizens is drone journalism which might become bigger since an estimated "30,000 non-military UAVs" will be "buzzing across American skies by 2020." The ACLU wrote, "The bottom line is: domestic drones are potentially extremely powerful surveillance tools, and that power - like all government power - needs to be subject to checks and balances."
The ALCU has joined with EPIC "to petition the FAA to 'address the threat to privacy and civil liberties involved in the integration of drones in the national airspace.' You should sign, too. Let's make it clear that Americans are deeply concerned that drones not become a common feature of our skies until strong privacy protections are in place to ensure they do not become tools for routine aerial surveillance of American life."
The "imminent threat to the privacy of every United States citizen," EPIC petitioned [PDF], includes Google using drones to supplement Street View images in other countries, "paparazzi drones" in Hollywood, private detectives tracking targets, and criminals and creeps "may use drones for purposes of stalking and harassment." The petition further states:
The consequences of increased government surveillance through the use of drones are even more troubling. The ability to link facial recognition capabilities on drone cameras to the FBI's Next Generation Identification database, the largest collection of biometric data in the world, increases the First Amendment risks for would--be political dissidents. In addition, the use of drones implicates significant Fourth Amendment interests and common law privacy rights. With special capabilities and enhanced equipment, drones are able to conduct far-more detailed surveillance, obtaining high-resolution picture and video, peering inside high-level windows, and through solid barriers, such fences, trees, and even walls.
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but drones will decimate your privacy. You have until midnight tonight to sign the petition. Unless you'd rather kiss away more of your privacy and civil liberties as you "smile for the camera" flying overhead, citizens, since it's coming soon to a police station near you?
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Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. Smith has a diverse background in information technology, programming, web development, IT consulting, and information security. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.
Smith is an independent contractor and is not affiliated with any vendor that makes or sells information technology.
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