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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

4/23/2012 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Universities, law-enforcement agencies win approval to use drones for their use

Dozens of universities and law-enforcement agencies have won approval by federal aviation regulators to use unmanned aircraft known as drones.

That thing over your shoulder may not be a mosquito -- it could be an unmanned drone, brought back from Afghanistan for civilian use.

That thing over your shoulder may not be a mosquito -- it could be an unmanned drone, brought back from Afghanistan for civilian use.

Article Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

4/23/2012 (1 year ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: Drones, privacy, civilian agencies, police, universities


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - More than 50 institutions that received approvals to operate remotely piloted aircraft are more varied than previously believed. The Department of Homeland Security, in addition to smaller departments such as the police departments in North Little Rock, Ark., and Ogden, Utah, as well the University of North Dakota and Nicholls State University in Louisiana have also requested drones.

Released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the matter came to light as the Federal Aviation Administration gears up to advance the widespread use of the drones. By the year 2015, Congress wants the agency to integrate remotely piloted aircraft throughout U.S. airspace.

The Mesa County Sheriff's Department in Colorado tested a drone with an infrared camera, measuring about 36 inches wide.

Although the documents don't indicate how the aircraft will be used, there are putting forth privacy concerns from the general public.

Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas asked the acting administrator of the FAA last week to answer questions about the privacy implications of increased drone use.

"Many drones are designed to carry surveillance equipment, including video cameras, infrared thermal imagers, radar and wireless network 'sniffers,'" the representatives wrote.

The FAA did add that "the responsibility to ensure that the privacy of individuals is protected and that the public is fully informed about who is using drones in public airspace and why."

As part of the push to increase uses of civilian drones, nearly 50 companies are developing some 150 different systems, ranging from miniature models to those with wingspans comparable to airliners.

The FAA says it has approved dozens of nonmilitary uses of unmanned aircraft, ranging from law enforcement to firefighting to wildlife monitoring. Drones also have been used for news coverage, mapping and agricultural applications.

For example, the University of North Dakota uses drones in connection with an undergraduate degree program in unmanned aircraft systems it started in 2009.

In addition, the North Little Rock police department has been working with a small pilotless helicopter since 2008, Sgt. Pat Thessing says.

Currently, the department is only training with the aircraft over unpopulated areas only, while it awaits FAA rules for use of such aircraft elsewhere. It hopes to use them for surveillance of high-crime neighborhoods, during drug investigations and other work.

In addition, recipients of these special permits must fly in a certain geographic area outlined on their application. The FAA typically doesn't allow drones to fly through airspace where commercial, business and private planes travel.

Ryan Calo, who conducts research into privacy and robotics at Stanford Law School, says the use of such aircraft will become more common.

"The very same drone that was staking out a nest of insurgents and possibly shooting them could be deployed in New York for surveillance" after removal of weaponry, Calo said. He said the use of drones could spark a wider debate about privacy because people aren't accustomed to such technology. "If you bring back a tank from Afghanistan, you don't expect it to show up in a park," he said.

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