American law enforcement agencies are getting their hands on the same drones that have been carrying out airstrikes and surveillance on foreign battlefields.
According to the defense contractor that developed the Predator and Reaper drones for the United States military’s operations in the Middle East, drones will have begun to replace piloted law enforcement helicopters by the year 2025.
On Monday, it was reported that the contractor, General Atomics (GA), is pressing hard for the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to change its regulations on unmanned flight over American soil.
“The federal rules that govern aircraft in U.S. airspace are much stricter than those that cover U.S. military drones overseas,” Defense One wrote. “Many of the Federal Aviation Authority’s regulations were drafted for manned aircraft, long before unmanned flight across the United States was even a possibility.”
As such, defense contractors have a vested interest in seeing the FAA adopt regulations that, as Defense One reports, would “open the floodgates” on a brand new aviation market. But GA, which has developed a cousin of its Reaper drone for domestic surveillance use, is ahead of the pack in terms of FAA certification.
In August, after receiving a special waiver from the FAA, GA put on a demonstration of its new MQ-9B drone, flying it 275 miles from Yuma, Arizona, to GA’s private airfield in Grey Butte, California. During the demo, members of the media, including Defense One’s Patrick Tucker, got to see what the machine is capable of:
“During the MQ-9B test in Grey Butte, journalists peeked out the door of the ground-control trailer to the tiny, barely visible plane overhead. Back inside, the monitors showed that we could easily distinguish each another, pick out clothing patterns, discern other markings, etc. It looked like a view from 30 feet up, not 2,000.”
GA is aiming for FAA certification of its MQ-9B by 2025. If the contractor has its way, the door will officially be open for military-style unmanned craft to be used by police departments across the country.
Naturally, the possibility has privacy advocates greatly concerned, as it has since its injection into the public conversation. This concern was voiced once more by Jeramie D. Scott, director of the Domestic Surveillance Center Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to Defense One when speaking of the MQ-9B:
“Drones make indiscriminate and persistent aerial surveillance feasible and can easily be equipped with technologies like facial recognition. Without proper restrictions, drone surveillance will become the norm of public space, undermine our constitutional rights and chill First Amendment activities.”
Top photo: A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down an Afghanistan runway. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)
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