Thursday, March 30, 2006

Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies | CNET News.com

Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies | CNET News.com: "Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies

By Declan McCullagh
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: March 29, 2006, 1:41 PM PST


Unmanned aerial vehicles have soared the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq for years, spotting enemy encampments, protecting military bases, and even launching missile attacks against suspected terrorists.

Now UAVs may be landing in the United States.

A House of Representatives panel on Wednesday heard testimony from police agencies that envision using UAVs for everything from border security to domestic surveillance high above American cities. Private companies also hope to use UAVs for tasks such as aerial photography and pipeline monitoring.

'We need additional technology to supplement manned aircraft surveillance and current ground assets to ensure more effective monitoring of United States territory,' Michael Kostelnik, assistant commissioner at Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection Bureau, told the House Transportation subcommittee.

Kostelnik was talking about patrolling U.S. borders and ports from altitudes around 12,000 feet, an automated operation that's currently underway in Arizona. But that's only the beginning of the potential of surveillance from the sky.

In a scene that could have been inspired by the movie 'Minority Report,' one North Carolina county is using a UAV equipped with low-light and infrared cameras to keep watch on its citizens. The aircraft has been dispatched to monitor gatherings of motorcycle riders at the Gaston County fairgrounds from just a few hundred feet in the air--close enough to identify faces--and many more uses, such as the aerial detection of marijuana fields, are planned.

That raises not just privacy concerns, but also safety concerns because of the possibility of collisions with commercial and general aviation aircraft."

UAV's to monitor American citizens. Is it 1984 yet?

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