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Tag Archives: Domestic

David Kravets | WIRED

On June 30, 1956, two airliners flying over the Grand Canyon collided. All 128 passengers and crew aboard the planes perished. It was the first U.S. air disaster with more than 100 fatalities. The accident made clear that the nation’s burgeoning air-travel industry needed better safety oversight. Citing the “tragic losses of human life,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation creating the Federal Aviation Administration in 1958.

Six decades and a zillion regulations later, the agency that supervises everything from air-worthiness to passenger gadget use has taken legal action for the first time against an on-ground pilot — an operator of a styrofoam, 4.5-pound Ritewing Zephyr-powered glider. The $10,000 levy (.pdf) invokes the same code section that governs the conduct of actual airline-passenger pilots, charging modelerRaphael Pirker with illegally operating a drone for commercial purposes and flying it “in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.”

Pirker is fighting the citation (.pdf) before the National Transportation Safety Board, challenging the FAA’s assertion that it has the power to supervise the use of unmanned drones. If Pirker prevails, the FAA’s 2007 ban on the commercial use of unmanned drones — a thriving overseas business — may be nullified.

Pirker’s legal battle throws a spotlight on a commercial drone scene in the United States operating in a grey area. The FAA has issued dozens of cease-and-desist letters to operators of commercial model aircraft, forcing some companies to shut down. Others, however, are performing their aerial filming and crop and real estate surveying businesses underground — or sometimes right in the open.

The agency is working on a set of regulations for the budding industry, but those rules won’t be unveiled until as early as 2015. Meanwhile, uncertainty reigns.

Pirker’s lawyer maintains that the 2007 ban on commercial drones is invalid because the FAA failed to hold public hearings before issuing the rule. “There is no enforceable federal regulation concerning the operation of a model airplane,” says the attorney, Brendan Schulman of New York.

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Richard Cockle | The Oregonian

An Oregon Army National Guard reconnaissance drone on the flight line in a hanger in Pendleton is dwarfed by Guard spokesman Pat Caldwell and a combat-ready Chinook helicopter. The RQ7B Shadow drones are now based at the Guard's armory at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport and will be used to train operators for combat missions abroad.

An Oregon Army National Guard reconnaissance drone on the flight line in a hanger in Pendleton is dwarfed by Guard spokesman Pat Caldwell and a combat-ready Chinook helicopter. The RQ7B Shadow drones are now based at the Guard’s armory at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport and will be used to train operators for combat missions abroad.

PENDLETON — A 375-pound Oregon Army National Guard drone carrying a sophisticated camera was catapulted into the cobalt-blue eastern Oregon sky here Tuesday, in what Guard officials called the first-ever flight of an unmanned military aircraft through civilian airspace.

Until now, military drones have been confined to restricted airspace above U.S. military bases. The Guard expects to initially fly the four unmanned planes based here twice a month, and later expand the flights to once a week over the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton and wheat fields to the north, said Pat Caldwell, a Guard spokesman.

The brief flight of the Guard’s RQ7B Shadow around the airport takes the Guard into potentially controversial territory.

The possibility of widespread drone use has prompted debate in the Oregon Legislature this year, pitting concerns over domestic surveillance against the promise of a tantalizing new industry. Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, introduced legislation that would criminalize the use of drones to fire missiles or spy on people.

But Guard officials vow that the drones flown from Pendleton will be used for combat training, not peeking poolside or in the windows of homes and businesses. Read More

Pratap Chatterjee | Common Dreams

Boeing, the aircraft manufacturing giant from Seattle, helped defeat a Republican proposal in Washington state that would have forced government agencies to get approval to buy unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly known as drones, and to obtain a warrant before using them to conduct surveillance on individuals.

Local authorities in Seattle and in King county experimented with conducting surveillance from Draganfly Innovations drones last year, only to cancel both programs in the fact of public protest. “I’m not really surprised that people are upset,” said Jennifer Shaw from the American Civil Liberties Union, a human rights group that campaigned against the drones. “It’s a frightening thing to think that there’s government surveillance cameras overhead.”

On February 7, 2013, David Taylor, a Republican member of the state legislature, introduced a bill to regulate drone use. The proposed law quickly won support from several Democratic party politicians on the state Public Safety Committee.

Alarmed by the growing bipartisan coalition, Boeing jumped into the fray. “We believe that as the technology matures, best practices and new understanding will emerge, and that it would be counterproductive to rush into regulating a burgeoning industry,” Boeing spokeswoman Sue Bradley wrote in a statement. (The company makes a variety of drones from the Unmanned Little Bird and the A160 Hummingbird helicopters to the ScanEagle which has been used in Iran and Iraq and the proposed new X-45C combat aircraft)

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The Seattle Times

Officer Jim Britt demonstrates the unmanned aerial vehicle during an October informational meeting at the Garfield Community Center.

Officer Jim Britt demonstrates the unmanned aerial vehicle during an October informational meeting at the Garfield Community Center.

The Seattle City Council approved regulations that cover the Seattle Police Department’s use of unmanned aircraft systems. But the department has to start all over again, under the new rules.

That much has apparently not changed. Last week the SPD secured a last-minute revision of pending City Council legislation that laid out the operating conditions for the use of surveillance technology, including drones.

The unanimously approved council bill allows the police to use drones under three sets of conditions: when they have a warrant to do so; under certain “exigent” emergency circumstances; and in the course of a criminal investigation when the courts would not require a warrant for specified kinds of surveillance in public spaces.

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz asked the council for the exemptions. He noted a council requirement to always secure a warrant could create an impediment to investigations because the courts are not inclined to issue warrants when they are not needed.

The sought-after language was included in the council bill, but its last-minute inclusion offered the public virtually no opportunity to comment during a brief public hearing. Read More

Lawerence Hurley | Reuters

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pauses during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 6, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pauses during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 6, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Attorney General Eric Holder said on Thursday that President Barack Obama would not have the authority to order a drone to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil who was “not engaged in combat.”In a two-sentence letter to Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, Holder said he had heard Paul wanted to know if the president could use a drone to kill an American outside of an emergency situation.

“The answer to that question is no,” Holder wrote.

He was responding in part to Paul’s extensive critique of a letter the attorney general sent to the senator, which was made public on Tuesday. Holder said then that drone strikes against Americans on U.S. soil were not anticipated, but he did not rule them out in circumstances similar to the September 11 attacks in 2001.

On Wednesday, Paul spent nearly 13 hours speaking on the Senate floor in an attempt to block the confirmation of John Brennan as the next CIA director in protest at the use of drones in targeted killings.

The Obama administration has increasingly used drone strikes to target militants overseas, particularly in Pakistan and Yemen.

Terry Frieden | CNN

A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator UAV assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing flies near the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, on January 7, 2012. Iranian jets fired on a Predator drone on November 1 over the Persian Gulf, an incident the Air Force says took place over international waters.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator UAV assigned to the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Reconnaissance Wing flies near the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, on January 7, 2012. Iranian jets fired on a Predator drone on November 1 over the Persian Gulf, an incident the Air Force says took place over international waters.

Attorney General Eric Holder is not entirely ruling out a scenario under which a drone strike would be ordered against Americans on U.S. soil, but says it has never been done previously and he could only see it being considered in an extraordinary circumstance.He began to winnow the list of those possible extraordinary circumstances Wednesday. In testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pressed Holder whether he believed it would be constitutional to target an American terror suspect “sitting at a cafe” if the suspect didn’t pose an imminent threat.

“No,” Holder replied.

But he also said the government has no intention of carrying out drone strikes inside the United States. Echoing what he said in a letter to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, he called the possibility of domestic drone strikes “entirely hypothetical.”

That letter, released Tuesday, was prompted by questions raised over the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Specifically, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee sought the Obama administration’s legal rationale for its use of drones to kill terror suspects overseas.

But Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has said he would do what he could to hold up Brennan’s nomination until he got a full answer to his query, wanted to know whether the administration considered that policy applicable domestically.

In a letter to Paul dated on Monday, Holder said it was possible, “I suppose,” to imagine an “extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate” under U.S. law for the president to authorize the military to “use lethal force” within the United States.

However, Holder said the question was “entirely hypothetical” and “unlikely to occur.” Read More

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