New meaning for the phrase "Don't Mess With Texas;" Texas Sheriff's office receives weaponizable drone, alarms local news station

Saw this on the news, and then read about it today on engadget as well.  Interesting points - 50 pound chopper, to be used primarily for surveillance, but also weapons capable.  Local 2 News has a tendency to blow things out of proportion, and they clearly wanted to sensationalize this, but the technology does raise some interesting privacy issues that may need to be addressed in the long run.  Is an individual invading someones privacy if they capture video of activities that might otherwise be private??

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Comment by Anish on November 1, 2011 at 1:11pm
Privacy issues always are raised by new technologies, it is worse when legislation supporting it lags behind
Comment by Scott Plunkett on November 1, 2011 at 1:17pm

Engadget article with video here.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on November 1, 2011 at 2:32pm

Keep looking at the news tab on the right you would have seen this story two days ago ;-)


Interesting that Police sUAS are rolling out in the USA whilst the last one in the UK falls into the drink and will not be replaced.

Comment by Michael Pursifull on November 1, 2011 at 3:19pm

Of course you can break the law and become a peeping tom with a flying camera. And in the States and if you are LEO, then you may also be breaching constitutional protections against unreasonable search. In this case, the technology does not change anything. LEOs have helicopters and can also get a crane or cherry picker lift arm. If it is legal to use those to peek in your backyard, then they can use a UAV to do it. However, if they fly it some place they could not legally go in person (i.e., no warrant) then the courts will (eventually) determine that the technology used is immaterial to the basic facts. 


A more interesting case, although it is perfectly clear to me, involves the use of FLIR and thermal cameras to peer through walls.... again, it does not matter if it is handheld or mounted to an UAV. If it is used by a LEO, due process and proper search authorization should be used, but this is not universally tested or accepted. This is, of course, a US-centric view, as it is a view based on the US constitution. Your local situation will vary greatly, even within the US, and none of this has yet been sufficiently tested (and will continue to flip flop in the courts for a while.)


Thermal cameras have been used for over a decade even by local LEOs. I know a very respectable couple who were harassed by their local sheriff office. The Sheriff's office spend time driving around peeking into people's homes with thermal cameras. This couple had installed a thermal water heater system on their roof to supplement the heating and water heater in their house.... it is very similar the the water heaters used around the world in the form of a black tank mounted on the roof, but in this case was a low glass-topped arrangement like a solar panel because it looks better, fits within the HOA rules, and distributes the weight of the water better.


From the street, the heating panels and supporting tubes were misinterpreted as drugs related, and the LEOs asked to enter the house to "look around", tried to game the couple and their son separate to get them to admit the officers after they were refused entry (the couple had been harassed for a while by this time, and had figured out from comments why the sherriff's office were targeting them ... and they were offended at what they viewed as a warrrentless search, even though their recognized that the equipment was on their roof, they knew that the LEOs did not know this, and had spent days peering into their home with the cameras.)


Technology, in both cases, is not really the issue. The laws are there for a reason. There are cases where technology changes things, but I don't see privacy or search procedures being good example cases, except where people  claim that this technology changes the laws because it allows the LEO to do more than he could. Enabling the LEO to do something does not authorize him to do something, and does not change the legal process for simply because it makes it easier for him to violate that process.

Comment by Michael Pursifull on November 1, 2011 at 3:32pm

lawyer: "how did you discover the defendants' consensual but unlawful activities?"

LEO: "they were in plain view"

lawyer: "from the street?"

LEO: "yes, I was in the street."

lawyer: "did you use a camera?"

LEO: "yes"

lawyer: "was it in your hand? where was it?"

LEO: "on a flying hummingbird robot device."

lawyer: "and where was this flying hummingbird?"

LEO: "in the defendants' home"

lawyer: "their bedroom, isn't that right? and did you have a warrant to enter the property?"

LEO: "yes, I mean no. Yes it was in the bedroom, but no we did not have a warrant. We didn't need one. We didn't open any doors, we just flew in. If I come across an open door it is probable cause to enter the location to make sure the inhabitants are safe."

lawyer: "and by what route did your flying robot bird enter the premises of my clients?"

LEO: "well ... I flew it down the chimney... but it wasn't locked or barred."

Comment by Jose A. J. Berni on November 1, 2011 at 4:21pm

I don't know if this video has been posted here before but it shows some crazy people using shotguns from a similar helicopter:

Comment by Jeff on November 1, 2011 at 4:28pm

I watched the Montgomery video and I love how the police act as if they can hover and not be noticed and watch illegal transactions.

Comment by Jared S on November 1, 2011 at 8:43pm

Give me a break. It can be weaponizable as easily as any DIY drone. You know how marketing guys are---about a mile ahead of the engineers. And you know how the media just go ape over anything controversial. Good for the ratings. The reality is that shooting a man sized target with a dumb projectile from any meaningful distance from a UAS is very difficult and many years off. There is a reason why the Apache strafes its target with its cannon.

Comment by T.D. Gonzales on November 1, 2011 at 9:00pm

Sweet flying flash bang!

Comment by Scott Plunkett on November 2, 2011 at 8:39am

@Gary, yep - I missed it.


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