Friday 8 February 2013

DRONES: Are  they  really  needed?  (Part II)
Commercial drones
Less than a decade ago, the Pentagon had about fifty unmanned combat air vehicles (known as drones or UAV — unmanned aerial vehicles). It is estimated that they currently have about seven thousand of them. However, not all of them have to be used for military use.
Scientific use of drones
The Space Agency (NASA) in January 2013 will begin using a drone capable of flying 12 miles above the Earth's surface in an effort to understand how atmospheric changes affect climate. NASA will use a Northrop Grumman-manufactured Global Hawk, remote-controlled aircraft to sample the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean near the equator. The project is called the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment, or ATTREX. The tropopause is the atmospheric layer between the troposphere, which is the lowest portion of the atmosphere, and the stratosphere.
The Global Hawk is capable of flying at 65,000 feet and staying aloft for 30 hours, allowing for air sampling over an extended period. It has been outfitted with about a dozen scientific instruments and sensors to measure trace gases, temperature, water vapor, radiation and other cloud properties.
Use of drones for farming industry
Drones can be used for spraying crops and scanning soil patterns. Using a manned crop sprayer that flies 10 feet above a farmer’s crops could cause problems for the farmer. Any crop the pilot sprays that isn’t on his customer’s farm could result in the farmer being sued by his neighbor however a remote-controlled copter can be very precise. It is even possible someday to put such drones on automatic pilot so that they don’t wander over a neighbour’s crop. If a farmer is caught using his drone for the purpose of spying on his neighbour’s crops, then his licence to use his drone should be suspended.
 In 2009, an Idaho farmer created his own drone  and then put a commercial digital camera on it and began extracting data on soil patterns to help his business expand. Companies like CropCam build lightweight, modular, GPS-driven gliders to give farmers an aerial view of their fields without requiring pilot training or the expense of buying or renting a small manned plane.
Yamaha in Japan introduced its RMAX unmanned helicopter for crop-spraying in 1990. By 2010, the drone ‘copter and its robotic competitors — some 2,300 of them — sprayed 30 percent of Japanese rice fields with pesticides, according to a recent Yamaha presentation. The Japanese farm hectares sprayed by manned helicopters dropped from 1,328 in 1995 to 57 in 2011, as unmanned helicopter spray rose to 1,000 hectares that year.
Homeland Security’s use of drones
The homeland security drone program, directed by a retired Air Force Major General Michael Kostelnik (who played a key role in developing the armed Predator drone used for so-called ‘hunter-killer’ missions overseas, deploys a fleet of highly expensive Predators on the United States’ borders with both Mexico and Canada. The American FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have also used Predator drones for their domestic investigations. The drones belong to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which operates eight Predators on the country's northern and south western borders to search for illegal immigrants and smugglers. 
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a flock of Predators, stationed in Arizona, Texas, Florida and North Dakota, which patrol the country’s northern and southwestern borders. The border between Canada and the United States is extremely long but I imagine that there will be a day where drones will be used by the Americans for surveillance purposes in other provinces other than Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and of course the Canadian Territories. 
The unarmed Predator drones, produced for border duty by General Atomics, cost $18.5 million to $20.5 million apiece, not counting the hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for General Atomics to operate and maintain the Homeland Security drones. This could certainly reduce the use of armed men patrolling the borders.
Unfortunately, the belief that arrests of unauthorized immigrants and seizures of marijuana backpackers illegally crossing the border with their bundles of Mexican-grown weed is a good arsenal for homeland security is a fallacy. That is because the actual numbers of immigrant apprehensions and drug seizures (almost exclusively marijuana) are low for those high-tech, high-budget drone operations. The way I see it, they should be used strictly for surveillance and when a spotter in a control room spots people illegally crossing the borders, the team of armed homeland security officers can intercept the people crossing the borders and process them at any of their stations.
Police use of drones
The miniature drones flown by some Canadian police departments, like the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) use them as a surveillance tool probably costs about the
same as a police cruiser and easy to operate.  Police believe drones equipped with cameras, heat sensors, and radar all adds a greater ability for law enforcement to find criminals. 
Law enforcement agencies like the OPP, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Halton Regional Police that are using their drones for benign purposes like accident reconstructions and crime scene surveys and I suspect surveillance.
“We know that technology is basically neutral. It can be used for good and bad, and we know there are very good applications,” according to Michelle Chibba, the director of policy at Ontario’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. But, she added, “We’ve got to be aware of the unintended consequences to privacy when developing those technologies.”
The OPP’s first home-made UAV was replaced by a high-tech, helicopter-type creation in 2009, but that doesn’t mean they have the capability or, importantly, the authority for covert surveillance. When the OPP launch their UAVs, they do so under very strict conditions. They can go no higher than 120 metres (394 feet), must stay within the operator’s sight and can’t fly over people not involved in incidents. The OPP in Kenora, Ontario, where Sharpe is based, use their drone mainly for photographing crime scenes.

An argument in support of drones is that they are much cheaper to purchase than other forms of aerial surveillance. For example, a helicopter costs $3 million to purchase and a drone costs less than 1/30 of that. When the police have to mount elaborate and costly foot and squad patrols to follow a suspect 24/7, the expenditure of resources serves as a deterrent to abuse; it forces the police to limit their surveillance to instances when it is actually necessary. Drones permit the police to survey people at all hours of the day at a fraction of the cost.
Drones have varied uses. They were used during London’s high-security 2012 Olympics, and in other places they have tracked wildlife, investigated disaster zones and searched for missing people.
The drones currently used by Canadian law enforcement agencies are small and have limited range. Police in Canada aren’t flying multimillion-dollar aircraft like the Predator drone that is best known for its missions over faraway conflict zones however the Americans are using such drones for surveillance purposes within its own borders.  
I would hate to think that they fly such drones over cities because whereas a police helicopter in distress may be able to land safely, how do you land a Predator drone safely in a city?
Even the smallest of law enforcement agencies have benefited from the drone’s proximity. For example, Sheriff Kelly Janke heads the five-officer Nelson County Sheriff’s Department, which is head quartered in the town of Lakota, North Dakota with a mere population of 780. The county sits just to the south of the Manitoba border and is largely rural.
In 2011, Janke’s department was looking for missing cattle and was trying to execute a search warrant at a ranch when things got heated. His officers had to back off. But a Homeland Security’s Predator was nearby and the drone’s operators heard the police chatter on the radio. They contacted the Nelson County officers and asked: “Can we help?” The Predator drone flew over the ranch to determine whether the men involved in the stand-off were armed. The intelligence the drone gathered allowed officers to resolve the situation safely and make arrests. It is believed that this incident was the first case where an unmanned drone was used to arrest a U.S. citizen.

Last September, a police drone aircraft zeroed in on several marijuana grow-ops in north Milton and Halton Hills in the province of Ontario, Canada leading to the seizure of 744 plants with an estimated street value of $744,000. The Halton Regional Police Service Drug and Morality Unit, Guns and Gangs Unit seized the plants after they were located by the unmanned drone, operated by the department’s Forensic Identification Services team. As you can see, if used properly, the drones can serve a very useful purpose in crime fighting.
Drones can be extremely useful to forest wardens who are on the lookout for forest fires. If a lookout fire warden sees smoke in the distance, he can send his drone over to the area where the fire is and he will see at what extent the fire is growing.

Abuses of drones for surveillance purposes

To civil libertarians and privacy advocates, drones have far-reaching and potentially worrisome, implications. In the United States, there is great concern about the use of police drones improperly spying on its citizens. For this reason, a number of states are banning the use of police drones and this also applies to some cities. Lawmakers in at least 11 states are currently looking at plans to restrict the use of drones over their skies amid concerns that the unmanned aerial vehicles could be exploited to spy on innocent Americans. The 11 states are; California, Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, Virginia, Maine, Oklahoma and Montana. Charlottesville, Virginia is the first city in the U.S. to take action against the use of police spy drones. There is a two-year moratorium in the city on the use of unmanned aircraft. 

The use of police drones raise enormous privacy concerns and can easily be abused. We know that certain police officers have abused their authority to give
unauthorized persons information about other citizens. It is conceivable that certain rogue police officers will conduct unauthorized surveillances on unsuspecting citizens.  

Drones should never be used for indiscriminate mass surveillance, and the police
should never use them unless there are legitimate grounds to believe they will inform the police of potential danger or to collect evidence related to a specific instance of criminal wrongdoing.

Hopefully, as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) deliberates over the eventual use of drones at home for the multiple uses mentioned earlier, wiser thinkers will find a solution that will protect ordinary citizens from unwarranted spying by police forces. The government in the U.S. could follow the suggestions of the American Civil Liberties Union when it recommended the following safeguards with respect to the use of drones by the police.

USAGE LIMITS: Drones should be deployed by law enforcement only with a warrant, in an emergency, or when there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific criminal act.

Images should be retained only when there is reasonable suspicion that they contain evidence of a crime or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or trial.

 Usage policy on domestic drones should be decided by the public’s representatives, not by police departments, and the policies should be clear, written, and open to the public.

ABUSE PREVENTION & ACCOUNTABILITY: Use of domestic drones should be subject to open audits and proper oversight to prevent misuse.

: Domestic drones should not be equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons.

Last August, , the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which sponsored a recent drone conference in Las Vegas, announced that two FBI associations had endorsed drone-use guidelines adopted by the aviation committee of the police chiefs association.
Basically, those guidelines said police who use UAVs for gathering evidence of criminal wrongdoing need a search warrant before drone flights intrude on someone's reasonable expectations of privacy.
The guidelines also include provisions for not keeping images taken by UAVs unless they're required as evidence in an ongoing investigation or for law enforcement training. In addition, retained images should be open for review by government human rights authorities to make sure that citizen’s rights won’t be abused.  Further, there should be regular audits of flight documents.
Currently, the (FAA) requires that those people operating drones in the U.S. be trained in their uses and operations and their application for a certificate is 22 pages in length and the certificate is for two years. People flying model airplanes don’t need those certificates as long as their planes are in sight and don’t go any higher than 150 metres (492 feet) The FAA is only concerned with safety issues with respect to drones, not privacy issues.

Transport Canada (similar to the FAA in the U.S.) permits corporations use drones on an ad hoc basis so that they can monitor gas and oil pipelines for leaks and crops for moisture and other uses. I think it is safe to say that they all have a TV camera in them so that the operator also knows where they are going.

In my opinion, all drones should have transponders in each of them so that they can be traced by the operators in case something goes wrong with them and they fall to the ground. Also, there should be some means of determining if there is a problem with a drone when it is out of sight of the operator.

Drones are here to stay and if used wisely and legally by police authorities, they will serve a very useful tool in fighting crime. If not used wisely, then in the future, those that follow us will see drones not unlike those shown in the movie The Terminator which hover over cities looking for people to kill.

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