Clear example of how dangerous and invasive UAV technology is

Steve Watson
June 27, 2013

A stark example of how dangerous and invasive drone technology can be was provided when a small hobbyist drone was recently found to have buzzed around Florida capturing images of people’s apartment windows and even a bikini clad sunbather, before dropping out of the sky and crashing into a tree.

The rotor propelled drone was obtained by Florida news organisation WKMG-TV, where reporters reviewed roughly two hours of footage shot by an attached GoPro camera.
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WKMG-TV’s report states:

[…] you can see each flight starts innocently enough. But you can see the potential for bad behavior.
In one shot, the drone races toward an apartment window, getting within feet of the glass.

In another shot, the drone hovers over a female sunbather at a pool. She’s completely unaware that it’s there, and she never looks up.

But the scariest shot of all shows the drone wobbling high over I-4 as cars zoom by down below. The drivers have no idea that the drone was out of control at that point, and only seconds away from crashing.

The station was able to find the owner of the drone who pleaded innocence, stating “The only thing I want to do is essentially record a flight, put some music on it, and put it on YouTube.”

The man said that an electrical fault caused him to lose control of the drone. He also admitted that the case provides a clear example of how the technology can be misused and could lead to harm.

“If someone does do something stupid, they’re the bad apple, the bad egg. They’re the exception, they’re not the vast majority of us. The vast majority of us just do this for fun.” he told reporters.

WKMG showed the footage from the drone to State Representative Dana Young (R-Tampa) who told the reporters that it makes her “want to go back and look at the law we passed last year, and see if there are ways to tweak it.”

The current law governing drones in Florida does not apply to hobbyists flying small UAVs.

Despite the clear dangers and privacy issues concerning drones, a recent survey shows that two thirds of Americans support the use of unmanned spy drones for “homeland security missions,” despite the fact that such missions will include identifying gun owners and tracking the location of individuals via their cellphones, according to government documents.

The poll, conducted by the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions (IHSS), a research consortium led by RTI International, shows that 67% of Americans support the use of unmanned spy drones for “homeland security missions,” and that 63% support their use in “fighting crime”.

As we reported in April, the DHS is testing a number of different drones at a scientific research facility in Oklahoma that have sensors capable of detecting whether a person is armed. A promotional video for the Shadowhawk drone depicts the UAV being used to spy on a private gun sale.

CNet’s Declan McCullagh also obtained government documents which show how the DHS is customizing Predator drones originally designated for overseas military operations “to carry out at-home surveillance tasks that have civil libertarians worried: identifying civilians carrying guns and tracking their cell phones.”

Experts predict that there will be 30,000 surveillance drones in American skies by 2020 following a bill passed last year by Congress that permits the use of unmanned aerial spy vehicles on domestic soil.

Last week, FBI director Robert Mueller told Congress that the agency was already using drones for surveillance on U.S. soil on a limited scale.

Recently released FAA documents show that the FBI has received clearance to conduct surveillance drone operations inside the U.S. on at least four occasions since 2010.