Total misconception___Drone use in the U.S. raise privacy concerns

Drone use in the U.S. raise privacy concerns

A U.S. Air Force RQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle from the 432nd Wing out of Creech Air Force Base, Nev., takes off from the Rafael Hernandez Airport outside Aguadilla, Puerto Rico for a mission.

(CBS News) - Unmanned aerial vehicles, a key weapon in the hunt for terrorists overseas, are coming to America. In February, President Barack Obama signed a bill that opens U.S. airspace to thousands of these unmanned aircraft.

The drones come in just about any size you want - as large as a passenger plane - or as small as a hummingbird.

"There's no stopping this technology," said Peter Singer, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and perhaps the country's foremost authority on drones. "Anybody who thinks they can put this genie back in the box - that's silliness."

Singer watched them dramatically alter the American battlefield overseas, and says they're about to become the next big thing at home.

"They're technologies that not only give you capabilities that you couldn't have imagined a generation earlier," Singer said. "But they're also technologies that cause questions that you weren't asking yourself a generation earlier."

Sparsely populated Lakota, N.D., is the first known site where a drone was used domestically to help arrest a U.S. citizen. It was the case of Rodney Brossart, a rancher accused of refusing to return a herd of cows that wandered onto his land. When police tried to move in, the family allegedly greeted them with loaded weapons.

Sgt. Bill Macki, who runs the SWAT team in nearby Grand Forks, called in the reinforcements: a Department of Homeland Security Predator drone - a massive aircraft that until now most people associate with Hellfire missiles and strikes against terrorists.

"I can't really get into what the dispute was over," Macki said. "What I can tell you is the SWAT team wasn't there over a property dispute. The SWAT team was called out to render assistance reference to armed subjects. ... And using the unmanned aerial vehicle seemed appropriate in this instance."

Brossart's lawyer is looking at challenging the drone use. It's a potential test case for the country, because the rest of the country's getting a lot more of them. Everyone wants an eye in the sky: real estate agents to view properties; farmers to find thirsty crops; energy companies to build pipelines; local police departments want to launch neighborhood surveillance flights, or find hard to catch criminals.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, thinks the FAA was dragging its feet on allowing domestic drones. "No question about it. And that's why we acted," Mica said. The committee just passed legislation that the FAA estimates will put 10,000 drones in the sky by 2017.

Singer expressed concerns over safety, saying that while legislation did put in place rules to prevent drones from colliding with passenger planes, it did little to clarify who can operate them and who it can watch.

"That drone is not just picking up information on what's happening at that specific scene, it's picking up everything else that's going on," Singer said. "Basically it's recording footage from a lot of different people that it didn't have their approval to record footage.

Should people be worried that Big Brother is coming to watch them? "Well, there's always that concern," Mica said. "But there are means of tracking folks through cell phones, their computer usage. We live in a new age."

Ninety percent of the military's small drones are made at AeroVironment. CBS News needed clearance from the Defense Department to enter the factory floor. The next big market for AeroVironment? Small drones for local police.

"The average person probably doesn't even realize that these small, back-packable systems are used as extensively as they have been," said AeroVironment vice president Steve Gitlin.

Gitlin gave CBS News a tour, and rare, in-field demonstration. One drone, the Raven is four feet wide. What it likes in size, it makes up for in camera quality.

"People are going to use it for both good and bad," Singer said. "It's going to raise incredible new opportunities but also new challenges."

Singer believes that for every local police department trying to keep people safe, a less well-intentioned operator may be tempted to use drones for no good. And right now, there's little preventing either side from doing whatever they want.

"Like it or not, unmanned systems are the future," Singer said. "Unfortunately we're not ready for them - everything from our policy to our laws to the deep, deep ethical questions."

Views: 640

Comment by Patrick Egan on April 5, 2012 at 9:26am

Much ado about nothing. Privacy is over as the dishwasher can now drop the dime on you. ;-)

Comment by Rory Paul on April 5, 2012 at 10:17am

You think your cell phone is turned off...that is what it wants you to think!

Comment by Ellison Chan on April 5, 2012 at 10:29am

This article is very poorly written, full of grammatical errors.


What it likes in size, it makes up for in camera quality.

The assertions and conclusions are also flawed.

Comment by estebanflyer on April 5, 2012 at 10:41am

My favorite parts:

- Unmanned aerial vehicles, a key weapon in the hunt for terrorists overseas, are coming to America.

- Should people be worried that Big Brother is coming to watch them?

That's twice they use the word 'coming'.

Comment by Hunter Parris on April 5, 2012 at 1:44pm


I know right?  They talk about them like they are aliens from another galaxy or something.

Comment by Russkel on April 5, 2012 at 11:27pm

How does one put a genie back in a box? I have read papers on the recapture and relocation of cats to their native bags but I have never came across the theory of returning genies to boxes.

Comment by R. D. Starwalt on April 6, 2012 at 9:25am

It is a mistake to confuse 'news' with facts or truth. Journalists know this, we point it out.

Perhaps Mr. Singer was confused about genies and was referring to THIS ONE?

This is the second piece regarding UAVs lately from the Brookings Institute.

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. Our mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations that advance three broad goals:

  • Strengthen American democracy;
  • Foster the economic and social welfare, security and opportunity of all Americans and
  • Secure a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system.


I submit that their independent research is flawed unless they actually are building/flying UAVs/Drones/etc.That would fulfull the 'practical' aspect of their research.

Then again, they are a 'think tank'. I have more respect for think tanks like IAS.

Comment by Russkel on April 6, 2012 at 5:31pm

Ah very good R.D.S. One would put a genie back in the box in order to return it to the manufacturer to claim warranty.


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