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Domestic Surveillance Drones On the Rise 96

Posted by samzenpus
from the eye-in-the-sky dept.
Toe, The writes "Predator drones have now racked up over 10,000 hours of airtime in the U.S., largely for immigration enforcement. Homeland Security reports that drone operations lead to the apprehension of 4,865 undocumented immigrants and 238 drug smugglers in the past six years. Compare that to 327,577 illegal migrants caught at the southwest border in fiscal 2011. The only limits on their surveillance are FAA regulations keeping them away from crowded urban areas, and this is for safety reasons, not privacy. While the drones cannot see through windows, they certainly see a lot of what goes on in the (former) privacy of peoples' yards. The article cites Michael Kostelnik from the Office of Air and Marine for the Border Protection service saying he's never been challenged in Congress about the appropriate use of domestic drones. 'Instead the question is: Why can't we have more of them in my district?'"
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Domestic Surveillance Drones On the Rise

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:11PM (#38453148)

    Every time I see one of these domestic drone stories, I'm reminded of that scene in Blue Thunder [wikipedia.org] where Roy Scheider, having seen a demonstration of the deadly helicopter, says something along the lines of "You don't expect to use that thing for law enforcement, do you?" to his government minder. The guy just looks creepily at him and replies "Well, that would depend on the CIRCUMSTANCES, wouldn't it?"

    • by sd4f (1891894)
      What about Babylon AD, where as they are trying to enter the USA, unmanned drones start attacking them!
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Every time I see one of these domestic drone stories, I'm reminded of that scene in Blue Thunder [wikipedia.org] where Roy Scheider, having seen a demonstration of the deadly helicopter, says something along the lines of "You don't expect to use that thing for law enforcement, do you?" to his government minder. The guy just looks creepily at him and replies "Well, that would depend on the CIRCUMSTANCES, wouldn't it?"

      No problem. I'll just go around, hiding under a cardboard box. I have a feeling there will be a lot of us doing this.

      Video games: You can learn a lot from them!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm worried with all this effective border patrolling it suddenly makes more sense to have domestic drug production. And as a result all that violence assoicated with the drug trade that Mexico is experiencing springs up here.

    Maybe we deserve it more than they do. It's our demand after all.

    • by Nadaka (224565) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:33PM (#38453394)

      It actually makes a lot more sense to produce drugs locally, except we could also legalize it and completely eliminate the violent crime aspect.

      • by jc79 (1683494) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:48PM (#38453622)

        Steady on, that sounds suspiciously like common sense. If you start applying that to narcotics control, who knows what might happen?

        http://www.tdpf.org.uk/blueprint%20download.htm [tdpf.org.uk]

      • by Anonymous Coward
        I'm guessing big pharmacological industries are against that, because they will lose space with several other well established countries as producers. The moment the US has a strategic advantage I see they will make it legal, otherwise, may the Colombians and Mexicans die in that senseless drug war funded by the US.
    • I'm worried with all this effective border patrolling it suddenly makes more sense to have domestic drug production.

      Domestic Job Creation Plan...

  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:19PM (#38453216) Homepage Journal
    All you have to do is blitz the raido waves with garbage, wait for it to go into "home" mode, spoof the GPS signal, and you got yourself a hot sell on ebay.
    • by ewieling (90662)
      I wonder if you could train a hawk or falcon to take these things down. TFA mentions the drone flying at 20,000 feet -- higher than most birds fly -- but not impossible.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      All you have to do is blitz the raido waves with garbage, wait for it to go into "home" mode, spoof the GPS signal, and you got yourself a hot sell on ebay.

      How do you propose to sell one on eBay?

      For sale: 1 Mobile Airborne Surveillance uh thing 10,000 Buy it now No returns (I won't be here.)

    • by mug funky (910186)

      hang on, don't all you americans have guns?

      can a bullet get that high and do damage?

  • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:20PM (#38453236)
    The Mexico/US border doesn't move a lot. I don't understand why UAV surveillance of it is increasing, while the Boeing system of fixed cameras [seattlepi.com] failed after a $1e9 investment. It seems like fixed cameras would be much cheaper than keeping planes in the air, and would create fewer privacy concerns.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      The thing about cameras is that you have to have hundreds of them to cover a mile, and you have to then have dozens of people to keep track of them. Additionally there are inevitably holes in the coverage area and they don't necessarily handle the heat very well.

      A predator drone can cover a large amount of ground and be back before anybody crossing would have gotten far.

      • by jd (1658)

        Of course, since there are now thousands of tunnels, the border patrol is also going to need drone C-130 transport planes kitted with synthetic-aperture ground-penetrating radar. Which can be done, but is probably going to add a bit to the cost.

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      Just off the top of my head: fixed cameras have much more limited vision (so you need lots more, meaning more eyes to watch them as well), are much easier to avoid and/or damage, and (related to the first one and second) can only see a few hundred feet on either side of the border. The border is almost 2000 miles (3,196km), which is a lot of fixed cameras to watch. Can't rely entirely on motion detection either, since trees and animals move too. Also, tunnels can be seen from the air a lot easier.

      Those are

    • by egamma (572162)

      The Mexico/US border doesn't move a lot. I don't understand why UAV surveillance of it is increasing, while the Boeing system of fixed cameras [seattlepi.com] failed after a $1e9 investment. It seems like fixed cameras would be much cheaper than keeping planes in the air, and would create fewer privacy concerns.

      Possibly because it's also a lot easier to disable fixed camera systems, being close to the ground and all. And don't forget the need to run cabling... And/or go around them, at least until you have the complete network in place.

    • It's easier to deface or destroy a stationary camera.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Easy. If they succesfully implemented a permanent surveillance system at the border, they wouldn't be able to award further contracts to their cronies.

      Everything about government makes more sense if you assume that graft is its primary function.

    • Um, because people can learn where the fixed cameras are and avoid them? UAVs allow adaption to changing border crossing patterns.

    • by fermion (181285)
      It is instructive to compare the number of terrorist who come across the Mexico border as opposed to the Canadian Border. Given that the current precautions tend to push terrorists to canada, one wonders why we are wasting money beefing up the mexico border instead of putting known and effective measure on the Canada Border.

      The broader worry is that the use of drones does not seem to require warrants or other checks to make sure that the police are not just recording members of your family in awkward pos

      • by swalve (1980968)
        It used to be a point of pride that the US had the most miles of open border in the world.

        Also, the terrorism angle is not the real concern. The border hawks don't want the non-whites coming in and messing up their paradise.
  • Not so long ago... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:27PM (#38453316)

    Not so long ago, this type of spying on U.S. residents was seemingly so out of the question. I never heard anything about this when growing up (and I'm not all that old). It says something about our country that this is how we're using our technological advancement -- especially when it's not just spying on potential drug dealers or illegal immigrants, but also spying on average citizens behaving themselves. One could (and probably will) argue "what's the problem if you're not doing something wrong?" The problem is this: not everyone wants to be watched, no matter what they're doing. Privacy is something that every human being innately desires and this is encroaching upon that basic need. Also, one could also argue: why should perfectly well-behaved citizens be spied upon when they're not doing anything wrong? The problem here, innately, is this isn't like the cops on the highway sitting in the corners by trees just eagerly waiting for someone to go by at 100mph because in that case not everyone is actually being watched. When the radar beeps, the cop knows who to pay attention to and nothing is really recorded (except for perhaps the camera on the dash recording you after you're pulled over). Whereas with spying, information is recorded about everyone and not just those breaking laws. There needs to be something in place to either anonymize or delete data that's not relevant to court cases.

    The bottom line: years ago, this type of behavior seemed out of the question and now the U.S. has become just as bad as the countries we badmouth every day. There's something really disturbing about the direction we're heading in.

    • by forkfail (228161) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:37PM (#38453480)

      I'm guessing I'm a few years older than you, because the thought that's been occurring to me lately is that our nation does pretty much every single thing that was used as an argument as to why the Soviet Union was evil:

      - Political and economic based prison systems.
      - Torture.
      - Wars of aggression.
      - Spying on our own people.
      - Freedoms stripped away unless you were already in an established position of power.
      - Propaganda media.
      - Secrets, secrets, secrets.
      - Censorship.
      - Not taking care of the needs of the people while an elite class skims everything worth skimming.
      - Diminishing rights over time.

      The list goes and on....

      • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:11PM (#38453898) Homepage Journal
        Perhaps, if we're lucky, the oligarchy will collapse in on itself sooner than later, so we may begin the process of rebuilding what has been torn down.
        • by frank_adrian314159 (469671) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:01PM (#38454430) Homepage

          The collapse of the party oligarchy in the Soviet Union only brought about the rise of a new criminal-based oligarchy (many of whose members were also members of the original oligarchy). Why do you think things would be different here?

          • Why do you think things would be different here?

            'Cause we have guns! Oh, wait, so did they... OK, how about the Bill of... nevermind, that's already been subverted... well, there's always... uh...
            ...
            ...

            Shit.

      • by DM9290 (797337)

        I'm guessing I'm a few years older than you, because the thought that's been occurring to me lately is that our nation does pretty much every single thing that was used as an argument as to why the Soviet Union was evil:

        - Political and economic based prison systems.
        - Torture.
        - Wars of aggression.
        - Spying on our own people.
        - Freedoms stripped away unless you were already in an established position of power.
        - Propaganda media.
        - Secrets, secrets, secrets.
        - Censorship.
        - Not taking care of the needs of the people while an elite class skims everything worth skimming.
        - Diminishing rights over time.

        The list goes and on....

        To be fair: our elites are way better taken care of than their elites...

      • by roman_mir (125474) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:55PM (#38455314) Homepage Journal

        The list will go on unless the path is abruptly interrupted.

        Ron Paul 2012
        Gary Johnson 2016

      • by Felgior (856383)
        We could ask our selfs the question; " Is the United States of America still the land of the free ? " I do not think that any government has the political willpower to resist spying on their own people and censor the media or internet. Why ? Because it has become so easy ... the tools to do this can be easily bought. It not like china that had to build the great digital wall of China from scratch. The equipment is ready for use on the shelf of several corporations. It just costs some tax money. Selling it t
      • by daem0n1x (748565)

        But don't you know??? They were Freedom-Hating, Baby-Eating Blood-Thirsty Commies!!!! They just HAD to go down! We're so much morally superior than them!

        When the same guys who were in power during the Communist Terror took over the new Capitalist Heaven, they became Respectable Entrepreneurial Freedom Heroes. What would have happened if the same people had remained in power today? Oh, wait...

        Oh why do you have freedom? Why do you hate America?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The government and various rogue agencies have long supported spying on US citizens - it is naive to think that this is a recent phenomenon.

      Of course in recent memory we do have Nixon and his henchmen; J.E.Hoover use of the FBI for his own agendas as well as nebulously-lawful wiretaps, etc. in search of organized crime. Further back we can look at various usually war-framed laws/dictates that imposed information filtering and espionage charges. My small reading of history would lead me to believe that this

  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:39PM (#38453516)

    They announced the SC National Guard is going to start practicing with UAVs. The National Guard unit is one specifically tasked to civil disorder operations and "homeland security"......

    http://www.thestate.com/2011/12/21/2087491/sc-guard-unit-to-fly-small-uav.html [thestate.com]

    • by Obfuscant (592200)

      They announced the SC National Guard is going to start practicing with UAVs. The National Guard unit is one specifically tasked to civil disorder operations and "homeland security"......

      The article you link to says they are training to use the device for an upcoming deployment. Would you rather send the national guard troops into conflicts without training? They have guns, too. Should they be prohibited from training with guns until they get where they are going?

      National Guard units are also tasked with civil disaster relief, which includes the ability to remotely asses the damage and prioritize response. A UAV will give them the ability to view the disaster area from above, something th

  • i stop respecting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:46PM (#38453586) Homepage
    any source that measures the rate in fiscal years at which immigrants are incarcerated
    and any source that implies floundering white flight suburbia has somehow become inoculated against any need for drone surveillance in the 21st century, yet dense urban areas are teeming shit-holes that must be policed and patrolled up to the minute.

    I live in downtown Los Angeles. our "drones" are piloted police helicopters affectionately referred to as "the birds" which have canvassed the city for nearly 40 years. They started downtown when white-flight basically mandated them to prevent the scourges of economic collapse and urban decay from ever encroaching upon bob and his trophy wife in the burbs. soon they began patrolling hollywood, and santa monica, and pretty soon the ubiquitous helicopter-with-searchlight was patrolling the skies of every street in LA from sepulveda to sierra madre villa. its simple. if you dont like drones, dont accept them. address problems like crime, unemployment, and social inequality and for god sake recognize the fact that every meal you've eaten at a restaurant in the past year has at some point been prepared on some level by an "illegal."
    or dont do anything about the problem. blame victims, move away from trouble neighbourhoods and avert your eyes. vote the party line and soon enough, you'll enjoy all the wonders police state surveillance at cost to you.
  • by suricatta (617778) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:47PM (#38453612)
    I mean, seriously US - what the hell is wrong with you lot?
    (And if any of you think I'm trolling - drink less cool aid)
  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:55PM (#38453700)

    Oh, wait. They already have [vanguarddefense.com]. Shadowhawk UAVs are being deployed with taser shotguns.

  • ROI (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JobyOne (1578377) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:51PM (#38454334) Homepage Journal

    Predator drones cost $3,234/hour to operate, according to Customs and Border Protection. TFA pegs the up-front cost of the drones as $20 million each (and CBP has eight of them and is buying one more). That means in total they've spent more than $200 million on this little boondoggle.

    Even assuming that every single one of those arrests wouldn't have been made at all without the drone, that's over $41,000 per arrest in surveillance costs alone.

    It doesn't sound like CBP is producing a great ROI.

    • Re:ROI (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hguorbray (967940) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:09PM (#38454496)
      yeah -but they will have paid for themselves when they become armed and are used to put down pro-democracy, erm terrorist protests that rent-a-cops are too squeamish or outnumbered to do in order to save the corporate republic...with liberty and justice for some...corporations

      -I'm just sayin'
  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @07:19PM (#38454566)
    Didn't ANYBODY but me notice this? That the drones are apparently hangared -- and more importantly flown from -- a naval base?

    The military has absolutely no place being involved in any kind of domestic surveillance at all. This is by far the MOST worrisome aspect of the whole thing! Yet nobody else yet has even mentioned it.

    Slashdot, what has happened to you?

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