The Eye In The Sky Is Here – The Rise Of The Unmanned Drone

In the years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the world has grown accustomed to the idea of an invisible eye in the sky. With the advent of amazing modern technologies, the fact that the populace is being spied on has become more and more a reality. No one knows this better than the network of men fighting the United States from the mountains of Pakistan and Yemen. For years this enemy has been living with the sobering reality that modern war weapons include super detailed satellites, and unmanned flying drones that can launch rockets from miles above head. The future of war and surveillance is here.

It was only a matter of time before these weapons of war found themselves being deployed in the civilian domain. For a while it seems that only Al Qaeda linked terrorists had to worry about the unmanned aircraft in the sky. But, such technology is too tempting for local and state authorities to pass up. Now, we will see these unmanned planes being used on the homeland for all kinds of reasons – but safety is always the catchword.

Take the drone recently announced by authorities in Australia. The purpose of the small flying aircraft, which has a wingspan of about 3 feet, will be to patrol the coast for people who may be drowning. The aircraft will have a safety float attached to it which can be deployed to help save the life of someone who may be drowning. Apparently the aircraft will also be outfitted with sirens which can be sounded to alert other people to the dangers.

Another use for the drones will be in keeping track of storms. A recent news article states that NASA is looking to employ Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to keep track of tropical storms and hurricanes. The aircraft will be able to hover 10,000 feet above the storm, and investigate the storm’s properties by shooting lasers into the storm, and dropping in sensors from above. This is just one of the many uses for retired drones – which are currently finding themselves into the civilian airspace.

One of the most compelling reasons authorities wish to use drones in domestic airspace is to combat crime. This would not be the first time weapons of war found themselves into the civilian domain in the name of fighting crime. One need only think about the drug wars of the 80s and early 90s, which saw police departments employing tanks as battering rams, to get an idea how the battlefield can easily come too close to home. But, drones are poised to change all this. Unlike tanks, which are large and conspicuous, drones are very inconspicuous. They fly thousands of feet overhead, far out of sight or hearing range.

But, what would be a crime fighting use for drone technology? The immediate application is to patrol the border between the United States and Mexico. This idea is less politically charged than some of the other crime fighting proposals which employ drones, because Americans generally seem to agree that keeping the borders safe is a good idea. The drones would presumably be deployed against Mexican nationals, and other Central and South Americans looking to cross the border illegally. This actually gives the impression that the drones would be used to surveil Americans, even though the drones would be deployed over American airspace.

Another crime fighting application of drones would be in state and local police department usage. This would give such departments enormous power in the fight against crime. The potential applications of drone technology in crime fighting on the local level are practically endless. One could imagine the need for manned police helicopters being decreased when a local department could simply use a drone helicopter to follow suspects. Drones can be equipped with all kinds of technology, from infrared, to high resolution cameras. The days of being able to escape from the police in car or on foot would certainly be far closer to coming to an end.

Drones are currently forbidden from flying in U.S. airspace above an altitude of 400 feet – with few exceptions. But, all this is set to change in 2015. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must issue a license to fly over 400 feet – and the license has reportedly become easier to obtain due to the passing of a recent bill.

The prospect of widespread domestic drone usage has privacy experts up in arms. In the years following the wireless wiretapping revelations of the Bush Administration, and the Obama Administration’s implementation of x-ray body scanners in airports, many Americans are weary of ever more surveillance by the government. Though these two developments have certainly caused some uproar, the technologies themselves are largely limited. If one does not talk about anything unusual on the phone, or fly often, they may never be affected.

Drones have the potential to be a world changing technology. One much talked about application for drone technology would be to scan large groups of people – using facial recognition software to identify the people in the crowd. This could be used against not just militants, but also against protesters. Drone technology may be the beginning of the end of the traditional sense of privacy as they will allow whoever is using them to literally track and surveil in a virtually endless manner.

The fact is that drones in domestic airspace is now a fact of life. Drones are currently being used to help with weather forecasting and fighting fires. Soon, local and state law enforcement agencies will have the drones at their disposal in order to fight crime. Though the ostensible use of the drones will be to fight crime, privacy experts insist that the technology can put a significant limitation on individual privacy. Also, the implications for the safety of commercial airline fights, which will share airspace with drones, is another concern which must be tackled. But, drones are here to stay. In the coming years there will be a large proliferation of unmanned flying aircraft in American airspace. The eye in the sky is here.

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