April 16, 2012
By Jennifer Lynch
“If you thought survelliance drones were only used by the federal government, think again.” –KTRN
EFF recently received records from the Miami-Dade Police Department in response to a Public Records request for information on its drone program. These records provide additional insight into domestic drone use in the United States, and they reinforce the importance of public access to information on who is authorized to fly drones inside US borders.
The records the Miami-Dade PD released include the Federal Aviation Administration-issued Certificate of Authorization (COA) to fly the MDPD drones. This appears to be the first time a law enforcement agency has made its COA available to the public without redactions.
The COA and the other records EFF received show that Miami-Dade’s drone program is quite limited in scope. The two small drones the MDPD is flying—Honeywell T-Hawks—are able to fly up to 10,000 feet high, can record video or still images in daylight or infrared, and can “Hover and stare; [and] follow and zoom,” (pdf) according to the manufacturer. However, the COA limits their use to flights below 300 feet. The drones also must remain within visual line of sight of both a pilot and an observer and can only be flown during the day. They cannot be flown within the Miami city limits or over any high-rise buildings, populated beaches, outdoor assemblies of people, or heavily trafficked roadways (which seems to severely limit their range). Also, the MDPD has stated it doesn’t use the drones to record incidents or store image files and that the drone is set up to “clear the picture upon the next picture being captured.” (It is not clear from MDPD’s records whether the department has another system set up to retain the image files.)
April 4, 2012
By Info Wars
“Why are they so afraid of us that they would need to use nuclear drones to watch every move we make? Let’s hope they use these drones to catch real criminals like rapists and murderers. More than likely, they will be watching pot growers and cars speeding over the limit.” –KTRN
The next generation of surveillance drones will be nuclear powered. Instead of flying for hours, the new drones will be able to stay in the air for months. The development represents a bonanza for the national security state and its military-industrial complex ministries like the Department of Homeland Security.
The blueprints for the new drones, which have been developed by Sandia National Laboratories – the US government’s principal nuclear research and development agency – and defense contractor Northrop Grumman, were designed to increase flying time “from days to months” while making more power available for operating equipment, according to a project summary published by Sandia.
Using nuclear power would enable the Reaper [a Northrop Grumman drone] not only to remain airborne for far longer, but to carry more missiles or surveillance equipment, and to dispense with the need for ground crews based in remote and dangerous areas.
In February, the project was fast-tracked and the FAA gave the go-ahead to allow the unmanned surveillance aircraft to fly in U.S. air space.
“The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015,” washingtontimes.com reported.
“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,” the ACLU wrote in a statement.
“The bottom line is: domestic drones are potentially extremely powerful surveillance tools, and that power — like all government power — needs to be subject to checks and balances We hope that Congress will carefully consider the privacy implications that this technology can lead to.”
March 9, 2012
Electronic Frontier Foundation
By Trevor Timm
“It’s pretty sad that the government is this afraid of its own people. Only a corrupt and paranoid organization would act like this.” –KTRN
Attorney General Eric Holder gave a much publicized speech at Northwestern law school on Monday, in which he attempted to explain the Obama administration’s constitutional authority for killing U.S. citizens abroad without judicial oversight. Holder in part claimed that there is a difference between “due process” and “judicial process”, the latter of which—according to him—is not guaranteed under the Constitution. The speech was predictably and widely criticized in legal circles on Fifth Amendment grounds (see here, here, here, here, and here),but an overlooked section of his speech should also give constitutional experts pause: Holder’s stance on the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) and warrantless wiretapping.
Holder spent a portion of his speech arguing that legal tools used to fight terrorism (excluding the killing of al-Awlaki and other American citizens overseas) are rightly subject to “check and balances” and “a comprehensive regime of oversight by all three branches of government.” He curiously used section 2702 of the FAA as his prime example, a law he says “protect[s] the privacy and civil rights of innocent individuals.”
As EFF readers will remember, the FAA is the statute Congress passed giving immunity to telecom companies despite their participation in the NSA’s massive warrantless wiretapping program, which the New York Times first exposed in 2005. EFF and a host of other civil liberties groups have been involved in litigation challenging the constitutionality of warrantless wiretapping for years.
Former member of the Obama administration’s Office of Legal Counsel Marty Lederman explains section 702 of the FAA “permits the NSA to intercept phone calls and e-mails between the U.S. and a foreign location, without making any showing to a court and without judicial oversight, whether or not the communication has anything to do with al Qaeda—indeed, even if there is no evidence that the communication has anything to do with terrorism, or any threat to national security.” All told, the “collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications” every day, according to the Washington Post.
February 27, 2012
Heads up: Drones are going mainstream.
Unmanned military aircraft have tracked and killed terrorists in the Middle East and Asia. Their civilian cousins are now in demand by police departments, border patrols, power companies, news organizations and others wanting a bird’s-eye view that’s too impractical or dangerous for conventional planes or helicopters to get.
Along with the enthusiasm, there are qualms.
Drones overhead could invade people’s privacy. The government worries they could collide with passenger planes or come crashing down to the ground.
Despite that, pressure is building to give drones the same access as manned aircraft to the sky at home.
The Federal Aviation Administration must write rules allowing civilian and military drones to fly in civilian airspace by September 2015.
February 13, 2012
By J.D. Heyes
“What ever happened to the land of the free?” –KTRN
It’s the most benign thing in the world. In fact, it’s a concept whose time has come and it will only help protect us and keep us safe. Naturally, there’s nothing to worry about because there won’t be any abuse of the technology. After all, spy drones are already being used around the U.S.; what’s the problem with adding tens of thousands more?
In case you didn’t know it – and you probably didn’t – Congress, with little fanfare, passed an FAA reauthorization bill last week President Obama is expected to sign into law that will make it much easier for the government to put scores of unmanned spy drones into American skies.
Not only that the legislation authorizes the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015. If the law takes full effect, it is believed as many as 30,000 drones could be hovering over the U.S. by 2020.
The drones, which are widely used in Afghanistan to spot and target suspected insurgents and Taliban operatives in that country as well as neighboring Pakistan, have been used by American government agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, for a few years, in an observation/surveillance capacity. DoH has also used drones in disaster relief operations, and advocates say they can be successfully employed to fight fires and locate missing hikers.
Say Good-bye to Privacy
Privacy advocates, however, are sounding the alarm good and loud.
“There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities,” Steven Aftergood, head of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Washington Times.
Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a watchdog group, added that her organization is particularly “concerned about the implications for surveillance by government agencies.”
January 11, 2012
By Jillian Rayfield
A secret air show in Houston. An unmanned blimp in Utah. A sovereign citizen arrested in North Dakota.
Each of these is just one small part of the bigger story of the proliferation of unmanned aircraft use within the U.S., and each is likely to become smaller still if the FAA goes through with plans to loosen regulations governing domestic use of drones.
News reports about Predator attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are common if not always complete, but what’s gotten much less attention is the increase in unarmed drones that are buzzing around within the U.S. itself. Primarily, unarmed Predator B drones are only used by government agents to patrol the borders for illegal immigrants, but there are a (very large) handful of other agencies and companies that use smaller, unarmed drones for a slew of other purposes. And that number is only expected to grow.
The FAA says that as of September 13, 2011, there were 285 active Certificates of Authorization (COA) for 85 different users, covering 82 different unmanned unarmed aircraft types.
Though the exact breakdown of the organizations who have authorization is unclear — and the FAA would not elaborate for “privacy” and “security” reasons — in January the Washington Post reported that as of December 1, 2010, 35% of the permissions were held by the Department of Defense, 11% by NASA, and 5% by the Department of Homeland Security. The FBI and law enforcement agencies also hold some, as do manufacturers and even academic institutions.
Between pressure from trade groups (like the drone manufacturers group the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), proposed legislation from Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to expand the number of drone testing sites in the U.S., and petitioning from states like Oklahoma for an approved 80-mile air corridor reserved exclusively for drone development and testing, there is great potential for drone use to expand within the U.S. in the next few years.
January 14th, 2011
By: Jeremy A. Kaplan
The planet’s northern magnetic pole is drifting slowly but steadily towards Russia — and it’s throwing off planes in Florida.
Tampa International Airport was forced to readjust its runways Thursday to account for the movement of the Earth’s magnetic fields, information that pilots rely upon to navigate planes. Thanks to the fluctuations in the force, the airport has closed its primary runway until Jan. 13 to change taxiway signs to account for the shift, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The poles are generated by movements within the Earth’s inner and outer cores, though the exact process isn’t exactly understood. They’re also constantly in flux, moving a few degrees every year, but the changes are almost never of such a magnitude that runways require adjusting, said Paul Takemoto, a spokesman for the FAA.
The magnetic fields vary from place to place. Adjustments are needed now at airports in Tampa, but they aren’t immediately required at all airports across the country.
So just how often is something like this necessary? “It happens so infrequently that they wouldn’t venture a guess,” Takemoto told FoxNews.com. “In fact, you’re the first journalist to ever ask me about it.”
Takemoto was quick to point out that the change, which also was required at Tampa’s smaller Peter O. Knight airport, will have no effect on passenger safety.
“You want to be absolutely precise in your compass heading,” he pointed out. “To make sure the precision is there that we need, you have to make these changes.”
Kathleen Bergen, another spokeswoman for the FAA, explained that runway designations and charting rely upon geomagnetic information. “Aviation is charted using latitude and longitude and the magnetic poles,” she told FoxNews.com.
The busiest runway at Tampa International will be re-designated 19R/1L on aviation charts. It had been 18R/36L, indicating its alignment along the 180-degree approach from the north and the 360-degree approach from the south, explained an article in the Tampa Tribune detailing the changes. Later this month, the airport’s east parallel runway and the seldom used east-west runway will be closed to change signs reflecting their new designations as well.
“The Earth’s poles are changing constantly, and when they change more than three degrees, that can affect runway numbering,” Bergen said.
While rejiggering the runways is a very extreme event, the fields are constantly in flux and constantly being remapped, explained Lorne McKee, a scientist with the geomagnetism division of Natural Resources Canada.
“Since the fields change relatively slowly, they’re marked out at 10 degree increments,” he explained. The field has swung from approximately 10 degrees east in the late 16th century to 25 degrees west in the early 19th century — before returning to a current value of about 3 degrees west.
It wasn’t immediately clear when or even if changes would be required at other airports. And even the rate of change is inconsistent, McKee said, noting that it’s changing much more quickly at the poles themselves.
Beyond just sliding around the planet, the magnetic north and south poles have been known to completely flip as well; these reversals, recorded in the magnetism of ancient rocks, are unpredictable. The last one was 780,000 years ago. Are we overdue for another? No one knows.
October 20th, 2010
By: Mike Adams
I encountered my first airport naked body scanner while flying out of California today, and of course I decided to “opt out” of the scan. You do this by telling the blue-shirted TSA agents that you simply wish to opt out of the body scanner. Here’s what happened after that:
A TSA agent told me to step to the side and stay put. He then proceeded to shout out loudly enough for all the other travelers and TSA agents to hear, “OPT OUT! OPT OUT!” This is no doubt designed to attract attention (or perhaps humiliation) to those who choose to opt out of the naked body scanner. I saw no purpose for this verbal alert because the same TSA agent who was yelling this ultimately was the one who patted me down anyway.
For the pat down, first I was required to walk through the regular metal detector. From there, I was asked if I wanted to be patted down in a private room, or if I didn’t mind just being patted down in full view of everyone else. Not being a shy person in the first place, I told the agent I didn’t need a private room.
He then explained to me that he was going to pat down my entire body, including my crotch and my buttocks, but that he would use the back of his hands to pat down the crotch and buttocks areas. This is probably designed to make the pat-down seem less “personal” and more detached. That way, air passengers can’t complain of being felt up by TSA agents who might get carried away with the pat-down procedure. He asked if it hurt for me to be touched anywhere, and I told him no, at which point he proceeded with the pat down.
It was a well-scripted pat-down, covering all the areas of my body, including a mild crotch sweep (it wasn’t especially invasive or anything, as doctors will do far worse during a physical exam). He swept my arms, legs, hips, back of the neck, ankles and everywhere else. To the TSA’s credit, this guy was fast, efficient and only used a light touch that was in no way disturbing. But it did take an extra five minutes or so compared to walking through the naked body scanner.
Speaking of the naked body scanners, as I was having my crotch swept by the back of the hand of this TSA agent, I was observing other air travelers subjecting themselves to the naked body scanners. They were told to walk into the body scanner staging area and then hold their arms in the air in a pose as if they were under arrest. They were told to freeze in this position for several seconds (perhaps 10 seconds) during which they were being blasted with ionizing radiation that we all know contributes to cancer.
The TSA, of course, will tell you that these machines can’t possibly contribute to cancer. But they said the same thing about mammograms, and we now know that mammograms are so harmful to women’s health that they actually harm ten women for everyone one woman they help. So I’m not exactly taking the U.S. government at its word that naked body scanner radiation is “harmless.”
As these air travelers were being scanned, their naked body images were appearing on a screen somewhere, of course. Some TSA agent was examining the naked body shape and contours of all these people, and even though we were told by the TSA that the image viewing machines cannot store images, we have since learned that the machines actually do have the capability to store those images. In addition, rogue TSA employees could simply use their cell phones to take snapshots of what they see on the screen. There are no doubt rules against such behavior, but it’s bound to happen sooner or later.
Meanwhile, my own security screening was proceeding fully clothed. I don’t want to broadcast my naked butt cheeks on the TSA’s graphic monitors, thank you very much!
Very few people opt out of the naked body scanners
The most fascinating part about this entire process was not the verbal broadcast of my opt out status, nor having my crotch swept by the latex-covered back hand of some anonymous TSA agent, but rather the curious fact that I was the only one opting out. Although I must have watched at least a hundred people go through this particular security checkpoint, there wasn’t a single other person who opted out of the naked body scan.
They all just lined up like cattle to have their bodies scanned with ionizing radiation.
To me, that’s just fascinating. That when people are given a choice to opt out of being irradiated, they will choose to just go along with the naked body scan rather than risk standing out by requesting to opt out.
You see, I’m not convinced that the TSA’s naked body scanners enhance air travel security at all. Previous security tests conducted by the FAA show quite clearly that the greatest threat to airplane safety isn’t from the passengers but from ground crews, where bombs and other materials can be quite easily smuggled onto planes.
But even though naked body scanners may not enhance air travel security, they do accomplish something far more intriguing: The successful completion of an experiment in human behavior. If you were to pose the question “Will people line up like cattle to be electronically undressed in front of government security officers?” The answer is now unequivocally YES!
Most people, it turns out, will simply do whatever they’re told by government authorities, even if it means giving up their privacy or their freedoms. Almost anything can be sold to the public under the guise of “fighting terrorism” these days, including subjecting your body to what is essentially a low-radiation CT scan at the airport!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I should be required to subject myself to ionizing radiation as a condition of air travel security. Of course, the more technically minded readers among you might counter by saying that high-altitude travel is, all by itself, an event that subjects you to low levels of ionizing radiation (which is true). But that’s all the more reason to not add the body’s radiation burden any more than necessary. Americans already get far too much radiation from CT scans and other medical imaging tests (not to mention mammograms). Do we really need to dose peoples’ bodies with yet more radiation every time they board an airplane?
Trusted traveler program?
I don’t know why the TSA never pursued its “trusted traveler” program. I actually suggested this years ago, and there was word that the TSA was working on something similar. The way it worked was very different from the current system. Under the current system, every person entering an airport security line is assumed to be a terrorist, and it is only through the various security screenings that you are eventually deemed to be innocent. This is a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to air security, and it’s the system in place all across America (and around the world) today.
Under a trusted traveler program, people who pass rigorous background screening procedures, criminal history checks and other similar tests would be assumed innocent unless suspected of being guilty. They might carry “trusted traveler” cards linked to a federal database so that their status could be verified as they pass through a security checkpoint. They might even have their fingerprint scanned at that checkpoint in order to biometrically verify their identity.
For whatever reason, the TSA is no longer pursuing any such trusted traveler program (at least not to my knowledge). Perhaps the agency just figures it can trust no one. Hence the need to have everybody line up in front of the naked body scanner machines and raise their arms in a humiliating “I’m being arrested” pose.
It’s actually just like the scene from the movie called The Fifth Element starring Bruce Willis. Remember the scene where the cops are searching the apartment block and they use an X-ray scanner to see through the walls? As they search the apartment building, they announce that all residents must face the wall and place their hands inside the yellow circles on the wall. This scene eerily resembles what the TSA makes U.S. travelers do right now.
And virtually no one protests. That’s the really amazing part about this.
Seasonal flu shots offered at the airport, too
After completing my security pat-down, by the way, I entered the terminal where I walked by a kiosk offering a seasonal flu shot. There was a big sign claiming that the flu shot would prevent you from catching the flu, and a nurse of some sort stood right behind the kiosk, ready to inject you with a vaccine for just $35.
First the naked body scanners, and then the flu shot propaganda. It reminded me that the U.S. government really is trying to push people into self-destructive behaviors that will ultimately benefit the sick-care industry. After all, the more cancer and Alzheimer’s disease people develop (from radiation and vaccines, of course), the more business gets generated for Big Pharma.
I know enough about health and freedom to avoid these little disease bombs, but most Americans don’t know enough to resist the propaganda. They just allow themselves to be irradiated, injected and poisoned, and they think it’s all okay because the government tells them it’s good for them.
It’s odd that people trust the government when the government doesn’t trust them at all. If the government treats you like a criminal, a terrorist, a lab rat and a vaccine depository, doesn’t that only prove they don’t honor you as a sovereign individual?
And that sends a powerful message confirming that the U.S. government has forgotten it is supposed to serve the People, not rule over them.
Just wait and watch how this gets even worse. Today, you can opt out of the TSA’s naked body scanners, but after a year or two — once the sheeple get comfortable with giving up all their freedoms — these scans will become mandatory. That’s the day I give up air travel for good.
Gee, I sure will miss having my crotch swept by the latex-covered back hand of some anonymous TSA agent who’s wasting taxpayer money by treating me like a terrorist.
June 14, 2010
By Joan Lowy
WASHINGTON (AP) – Unmanned aircraft have proved their usefulness and reliability in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now the pressure’s on to allow them in the skies over the United States.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been asked to issue flying rights for a range of pilotless planes to carry out civilian and law-enforcement functions but has been hesitant to act. Officials are worried that they might plow into airliners, cargo planes and corporate jets that zoom around at high altitudes, or helicopters and hot air balloons that fly as low as a few hundred feet off the ground.
On top of that, these pilotless aircraft come in a variety of sizes. Some are as big as a small airliner, others the size of a backpack. The tiniest are small enough to fly through a house window.
The obvious risks have not deterred the civilian demand for pilotless planes. Tornado researchers want to send them into storms to gather data. Energy companies want to use them to monitor pipelines. State police hope to send them up to capture images of speeding cars’ license plates. Local police envision using them to track fleeing suspects.
Like many robots, the planes have advantages over humans for jobs that are dirty, dangerous or dull. And the planes often cost less than piloted aircraft and can stay aloft far longer.
“There is a tremendous pressure and need to fly unmanned aircraft in (civilian) airspace,” Hank Krakowski, FAA’s head of air traffic operations, told European aviation officials recently. “We are having constant conversations and discussions, particularly with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, to figure out how we can do this safely with all these different sizes of vehicles.”
There are two types of unmanned planes: Drones, which are automated planes programmed to fly a particular mission, and aircraft that are remotely controlled by someone on the ground, sometimes from thousands of miles away.
Last year, the FAA promised defense officials it would have a plan this year. The agency, which has worked on this issue since 2006, has reams of safety regulations that govern every aspect of civilian aviation but is just beginning to write regulations for unmanned aircraft.
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