Thursday, March 30, 2006

UAV's coming to the U.S. for more spying on U.S. Citizens

Okay, that's possibly the most alarmist title I could have chosen. But this is what the government is moving to doing.

What's a UAV? Unmanned Air Vehicle, a.k.a. Drone. They are being used widely in Iraq and Afghanistan against "the terrorists". There's pointers to various articles at the end of this. This has been a long time coming, and it clearly fits into the general government strategy to install broad surveillance.

My first thought is -- the C|NET and AOPA articles (linked below) are only looking at regulatory issues. One example is a tiny surveillance aircraft, that weighs all of 14 pounds, and was used to buzz a couple biker rallies in North Carolina. A point in one of the articles is that an airplane hitting a bird causes a lot of damage to the aircraft (and kills the bird), so what would this thing, at 14 lbs weighing much more than the typical bird, do to an aircraft? These things don't carry transponders, so how are pilots going to detect them and avoid running into them? They are unmanned, and so won't have an in-built ability to avoid other aircraft.

So, yeah, there's some clear air safety considerations. The AOPA is doing their job in raising those concerns.

But, that's as far as they're going. I get the impression that if the FAA enforces some set of rules against UAV's the AOPA will be happy. But what about the rest of us, the ones who are going to be spied upon?

On the one hand the government and industry representatives are portraying this as being used for border security. Again, the danger of terrorists lurking in every corner ready to kill us if we don't deploy eternal vigilance. But on the other hand these were used to monitor a biker rally. It was used to watch for "unruly behavior". Yeah, you can expect "unruly" behavior at a biker rally alright, but does that warrant spying on the people?

It seems that yet again I'm coming up with the same question that's turned up before.

Technology is giving us more and more capabilities. But is the world that's being created around us the one we want to live in?

Is the technology getting away from us and creating a monster that will be difficult to reign in?

Resources and articles

Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies discusses regulatory concerns about the depoloyment of UAV's in the U.S. for border surveillance, detection of marijuana crops, and buzzing biker rallies.

AOPA acts to keep unregulated UAV operation out of navigable airspace and AOPA questions FAA's 'stealthy' UAV TFR on Mexican border discussing actions by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association to cause the FAA to review UAV usage for safety considerations.

Electric airplane (UAV) stays aloft for 48 hours and High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) - 'Eternal Planes' to watch over us and Aerovironment tests a hydrogen powered airplane -- my previous UAV coverage.