Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Domestic Spy Drones Approved by Congress

As if I planned it myself, just the day after I wrote a major blog (see the last one) about 7 privacy threats that the Constitution can't protect you from, Congress goes ahead and APPROVES two of them for widespread use. The two I speak of, as detailed by Alternet's Tana Ganeva, have to do with domestic spy drones. As I wrote at the time, apparently, these drones do more than just kill innocent women and children around the world, but in fact, are perfect domestic spying devices too.

As Ganeva also detailed, "An ACLU report from December says that local law enforcement officials are pushing for domestic use of the new technology, as are drone manufacturers. As Glenn Greenwald points out, drone makers "continuously emphasize to investors and others that a major source of business growth for their drone products will be domestic, non-military use."

Right now drones range in size from giant planes to hummingbird-sized, the ACLU report says, with the technology improving all the time. Some can be operated by only one officer, and others by no one at all. The report points to all the sophisticated surveillance technology that can take flight on a drone, including night vision, video analytics ("smart" surveillance that can track activities, and with improvements in biometrics, specific people), massive zoom, and the creepy see-through imaging, currently in development.

Similarly, there are also what are called "Super drones" that actually know who you are, because, as reported by Wired magazine, the military has given out research grants to several companies to spruce up these drones with technology that lets them identify and track people on the move, or "tagging, tracking, and locating" (TTL).

After writing about these disturbing possibilities, I then read these 3 stories, "Congress OKs FAA Bill allowing drones in US, GPS air traffic control", "Bill authorizes Use of Unmanned Drones in US Airspace", and "Drones over US get OK by Congress"

Let's go to the Chicago Tribune's report on this...this clip was found about halfway into the article:

The FAA is also required under the bill to provide military, commercial and privately-owned drones with expanded access to U.S. airspace currently reserved for manned aircraft by Sept. 30, 2015. That means permitting unmanned drones controlled by remote operators on the ground to fly in the same airspace as airliners, cargo planes, business jets and private aircraft.

Currently, the FAA restricts drone use primarily to segregated blocks of military airspace, border patrols and about 300 public agencies and their private partners. Those public agencies are mainly restricted to flying small unmanned aircraft at low altitudes away from airports and urban centers.

Within nine months of the bill's passage, the FAA is required to submit a plan on how to safely provide drones with expanded access.

Interestingly, not much more was said or discussed about these new rules and right in the article. So, let's go to the piece by the New American for more: 

Big Brother is set to adopt a new form of surveillance after a bill passed by Congress will require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to open U.S. airspace to drone flights under a new four-year plan. The bill, which passed the House last week and received bipartisan approval in the Senate on Monday, will convert radar to an air traffic control system based on GPS technology, shifting the country to an age where satellites are central to air traffic control and unmanned drones glide freely throughout U.S. airspace.

By using GPS technology, congressional leaders argued, planes will land and take off more efficiently, as pilots will be able to pinpoint the locations of ground obstacles and nearby aircraft. The modernization procedures play into the FAA’s ambitious plan to achieve 50-percent growth in air traffic over the next 10 years. This legislation is "the best news that the airline industry ever had," applauded Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). "It will take us into a new era."


Furthermore, privacy advocates worry that the bill will open the door to widespread use of drones for surveillance by law enforcement and, eventually, by the private sector. Some analysts predict that the commercial drone market in the U.S. could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars once the FAA authorizes their use, and that 30,000 drones could be flying domestically by 2020. "There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy and legal group, also is "concerned about the implications for surveillance by government agencies," affirmed attorney Jennifer Lynch, and it is "a huge push by lawmakers and the defense sector to expand the use of drones" in U.S. airspace.

"Congress — and to the extent possible, the FAA — need to impose some rules to protect Americans’ privacy from the inevitable invasions that this technology will otherwise lead to," wrote American Civil Liberties Union policy analyst Jay Stanley. "We don’t want to wonder, every time we step out our front door, whether some eye in the sky is watching our every move."

Now that I have your attention, let's get to the Washington Times (an admitted rag of a paper...but that doesn't mean they don't have anything of use to report):

Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It's ... a drone, and it's watching you. That's what privacy advocates fear from a bill Congress passed this week to make it easier for the government to fly unmanned spy planes in U.S. airspace.


Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well.

"There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities," said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the FAA to obtain records of the certifications. "We need a list so we can ask [each agency], 'What are your policies on drone use? How do you protect privacy? How do you ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment?' " Ms. Lynch said.

"Currently, the only barrier to the routine use of drones for persistent surveillance are the procedural requirements imposed by the FAA for the issuance of certificates," said Amie Stepanovich, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research center in Washington.

Let's remember what I posted last week on this topic - before I knew Congress was about to legitimize all of it. As Noah Shachtman wrote: Perhaps the idea of spy drones already makes you nervous. Maybe you’re uncomfortable with the notion of an unblinking, robotic eye in the sky that can watch your every move. If so, you may want to click away now. Because if the Army has its way, drones won’t just be able to look at what you do. They’ll be able to recognize your face — and track you, based on how you look. If the military machines assemble enough information, they might just be able to peer into your heart.

One company claims it can equip drones with facial recognition technology that lets them build a 3-D model of a face based on a 2-D image, which would then allow the drone to ID someone, even in a crowd. 

They also say that if they can get a close enough look, they can tell twins apart and reveal not only individuals' identity but their social networks.

The Army also wants to identify potentially hostile behavior and intent, in order to uncover clandestine foes. Charles River Analytics is using its Army cash to build a so-called “Adversary Behavior Acquisition, Collection, Understanding, and Summarization (ABACUS)” tool. The system would integrate data from informants’ tips, drone footage, and captured phone calls. Then it would apply “a human behavior modeling and simulation engine” that would spit out “intent-based threat assessments of individuals and groups.” In other words: This software could potentially find out which people are most likely to harbor ill will toward the U.S. military or its objectives. Feeling nervous yet?

We're getting into truly Orwellian levels of surveillance that makes one ask, "just what in the hell are we so afraid of that we need to be monitored at all times?" We know that, study after study indicates we ARE NOT under a dangerous threat from terrorists, either from abroad or from within.We know that the chances of being killed by a terrorist are a fraction of the chance that you'll be hit by lightning.

Yet, here we are, rationalizing and legitimizing MASSIVE surveillance apparatuses that leave our privacy, and the Constitution, in tatters. What is the bigger threat here? A government, and in fact, a PRIVACY drone industry that can watch us anywhere, at all times, and even facially recognize us, for who knows what purposes (i.e. stifle dissent)....or, can we, as brave Americans simply take the TINY TINY risk that living in a world in which we're not constantly watched is acceptable? I hate to repeat myself so much on this blog, but, I also know how many readers are first time readers, so let me break this privacy versus security paradox down again.

In the final analysis, if we include in our definition of "safe" the concept of "safe" from government intrusiveness and corporate profiteering off fear peddling, I would argue these machines make us less secure, not more. So let’s scrap the meme that we should live in fear and that our constitutional rights must be sacrificed to address a threat the fraction of that posed by lightning, salmonella, and the health insurance industry.

The trend line is all too clear. More concerning than any single threat posed by any single technology – including drone surveillance – is this larger pattern indicating that privacy as both a right and an idea is under siege. The consequences of such a loss would be profound.

This false dichotomy between security and privacy must be directly confronted. As security and privacy expert Bruce Schneier once wrote, "If you set up the false dichotomy, of course people will choose security over privacy -- especially if you scare them first. But it's still a false dichotomy. There is no security without privacy. And liberty requires both security and privacy. The famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin reads: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." It's also true that those who would give up privacy for security are likely to end up with neither.”

And let me sum this all up, once again, as I often do here.

Whether its the knowledge that everything we do on the internet is followed and stored, that we can be wiretapped for no reason and without a warrant or probable cause, that smart grid systems monitor our daily in home habits and actions, that our emails can be intercepted, that our naked bodies must be viewed at airports and stored, that our book purchases can be accessed (particularly if Google gets its way and everything goes electronic), that street corner cameras are watching our every move (and perhaps drones too), and that RFID tags and GPS technology allow for the tracking of clothes, cars, and phones (and the list goes on)...what is certain is privacy itself is on life support in this country...and without privacy there is no freedom. I also fear how such a surveillance society stifles dissent and discourages grassroots political/social activism that challenges government and corporate power...something that we desperately need more of in this country, not less.

But perhaps the GREAT Jim Hightower frames this attack on privacy the best when he writes, "Look, up in the sky! Neither a bird nor Superman, the next must-have toy for assorted police agencies is the unmanned aerial vehicle, better known as drones. Yes, the same miniaturized aircraft that lets the military wage war with a remote-controlled, error-prone death machine is headed to your sky, if the authorities have their way. Already, Homeland Security officials have deployed one to a Texas sheriff's office to demonstrate its crime-fighting efficacy, and federal aviation officials are presently proposing new airspace rules to help eager departments throughout the country get their drones.

But airspace problems are nothing compared to the as-yet-unaddressed Fourth Amendment problems that come with putting cheap, flying-surveillance cameras in the air. As usual, this techno-whiz gadget is being rationalized as nothing more than an enhanced eye on crime. But the drone doesn't just monitor a particular person or criminal activity, it can continuously spy on an entire city, with no warrant to restrict its inevitable invasion of innocent people's privacy. Drones will collect video images of identifiable people. Who will see that information? How will it be used? Will it be retained? By its nature, this is an invasive, all-encompassing spy eye that will tempt authorities to go on fishing expeditions. The biggest question is the one that is not even being asked: Who will watch the watchers?."

We would do well to - sooner rather than later - to recognize the inherent and fundamental value that privacy provides ANY claimed democracy. Without one there can not be the other..

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