[Marxism] Drones Set Sights on U.S. Skies

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at comcast.net
Sat Feb 18 14:12:31 MST 2012

Drones Set Sights on U.S. Skies
February 17, 2012

WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. — Daniel Gárate’s career came crashing to  
earth a few weeks ago. That’s when the Los Angeles Police Department  
warned local real estate agents not to hire photographers like Mr.  
Gárate, who was helping sell luxury property by using a drone to  
shoot sumptuous aerial movies. Flying drones for commercial purposes,  
the police said, violated federal aviation rules.

“I was paying the bills with this,” said Mr. Gárate, who recently  
gave an unpaid demonstration of his drone in this Southern California  

His career will soon get back on track. A new federal law, signed by  
the president on Tuesday, compels the Federal Aviation Administration  
to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors —  
from selling real estate and dusting crops, to monitoring oil spills  
and wildlife, even shooting Hollywood films. Local police and  
emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones.

But while businesses, and drone manufacturers especially, are  
celebrating the opening of the skies to these unmanned aerial  
vehicles, the law raises new worries about how much detail the drones  
will capture about lives down below — and what will be done with that  
information. Safety concerns like midair collisions and property  
damage on the ground are also an issue.

American courts have generally permitted surveillance of private  
property from public airspace. But scholars of privacy law expect  
that the likely proliferation of drones will force Americans to re- 
examine how much surveillance they are comfortable with.

“As privacy law stands today, you don’t have a reasonable expectation  
of privacy while out in public, nor almost anywhere visible from a  
public vantage,” said Ryan Calo, director of privacy and robotics at  
the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University. “I don’t  
think this doctrine makes sense, and I think the widespread  
availability of drones will drive home why to lawmakers, courts and  
the public.”

Some questions likely to come up: Can a drone flying over a house  
pick up heat from a lamp used to grow marijuana inside, or take  
pictures from outside someone’s third-floor fire escape? Can images  
taken from a drone be sold to a third party, and how long can they be  

Drone proponents say the privacy concerns are overblown. Randy  
McDaniel, chief deputy of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department  
in Conroe, Tex., near Houston, whose agency bought a drone to use for  
various law enforcement operations, dismissed worries about  
surveillance, saying everyone everywhere can be photographed with  
cellphone cameras anyway. “We don’t spy on people,” he said. “We  
worry about criminal elements.”

Still, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups  
are calling for new protections against what the A.C.L.U. has said  
could be “routine aerial surveillance of American life.”

Under the new law, within 90 days, the F.A.A. must allow police and  
first responders to fly drones under 4.4 pounds, as long as they keep  
them under an altitude of 400 feet and meet other requirements. The  
agency must also allow for “the safe integration” of all kinds of  
drones into American airspace, including those for commercial uses,  
by Sept. 30, 2015. And it must come up with a plan for certifying  
operators and handling airspace safety issues, among other rules.

The new law, part of a broader financing bill for the F.A.A., came  
after intense lobbying by drone makers and potential customers.

The agency probably will not be making privacy rules for drones.  
Although federal law until now had prohibited drones except for  
recreational use or for some waiver-specific law enforcement  
purposes, the agency has issued only warnings, never penalties, for  
unauthorized uses, a spokeswoman said. The agency was reviewing the  
law’s language, the spokeswoman said.

For drone makers, the change in the law comes at a particularly good  
time. With the winding-down of the war in Afghanistan, where drones  
have been used to gather intelligence and fire missiles, these  
manufacturers have been awaiting lucrative new opportunities at home.  
The market for drones is valued at $5.9 billion and is expected to  
double in the next decade, according to industry figures. Drones can  
cost millions of dollars for the most sophisticated varieties to as  
little as $300 for one that can be piloted from an iPhone.

“We see a huge potential market,” said Ben Gielow of the Association  
for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone maker trade group.

For Patrick Egan, who represents small businesses and others in his  
work for the Remote Control Aerial Photography Association in  
Sacramento, the new law also can’t come fast enough. Until 2007, when  
the federal agency began warning against nonrecreational use of  
drones, he made up to $2,000 an hour using a drone to photograph  
crops for farmers, helping them spot irrigation leaks. “I’ve got  
organic farmers screaming for me to come out,” he said.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department in Texas bought its 50- 
pound drone in October from Vanguard Defense Industries, a company  
founded by Michael Buscher, who built drones for the army, and then  
sold them to an oil company whose ships were threatened by pirates in  
the Gulf of Aden. The company custom-built the drone, which takes  
pictures by day and senses heat sources at night. It cost $300,000, a  
fraction of the cost of a helicopter.

Mr. McDaniel said his SWAT team could use it for reconnaissance, or  
to manage road traffic after a big accident. He said he regretted  
that he didn’t have it a few months ago, to search for a missing  
person in a densely wooded area.

Mr. Buscher, meanwhile, said he was negotiating with several police  
agencies. “There is tremendous potential,” he said. “We see agencies  
dipping their toes.”

The possibilities for drones appear limitless. Last year, Cy Brown of  
Bunkie, La., began hunting feral pigs at night by outfitting a model  
airplane with a heat-sensing camera that soared around his brother’s  
rice farm, feeding live aerial images of the pigs to Mr. Brown on the  
ground. Mr. Brown relayed the pigs’ locations by radio to a friend  
with a shotgun.

He calls his plane the Dehogaflier, and says it saves him time  
wandering in the muck looking for skittish pigs. “Now you can know in  
15 minutes if it’s worth going out,” said Mr. Brown, an electrical  

Earlier this month, in Woodland Hills, Mr. Gárate, the photographer,  
demonstrated his drone by flicking a hand-held joystick and sending  
the $5,000 machine hovering high above a tennis court. A camera  
beneath the drone recorded lush, high-definition video of the  
surrounding property.

Bill Kerbox, a real estate agent in Malibu who hired Mr. Gárate for  
several shoots before the L.A.P.D. crackdown, said that aerial video  
had helped him stand out from his competitors, and that the loss of  
it had been painful.

Mr. Gárate, for now, plans to work mainly in his native Peru, where  
he has used his drone to shoot commercials for banks. He said he was  
approached by paparazzi last year about filming the reality  
television star Kim Kardashian’s wedding using a drone, but turned  
down the offer. “Maybe the F.A.A. should give a driver’s license for  
this, with a flight test,” he said. “Do a background check to make  
sure I’m not a terrorist.”

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