Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Sophisticated UAVs Worry Sen. Tomes ; LETTERS

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Sophisticated UAVs Worry Sen. Tomes ; LETTERS

Article excerpt

A brave new world is emerging among policy planners within the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement agencies across the country who are quietly and without much fanfare promoting the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones to spy upon American citizens. The range and scope of what these small aircraft are capable of is incredible, growing and actually being promoted to a certain extent by the federal officials through the use of grants to pay for these modern surveillance devices.

Meanwhile, Indiana State Sen. Jim Tomes is proposing to introduce legislation in the upcoming session of the General Assembly to address the use of un-piloted aircraft over civilian targets to protect the privacy of Indiana residents.

Since first used to visually monitor border crossings by illegal aliens and drug traffickers by federal agencies in 2004, the level of sophistication and refinement of these technologies has advanced significantly as lawmakers at the state and local level remain uncertain about how much government should limit and/or regulate their use by local law enforcement.

Tomes, who opposes the use of drones throughout Indiana without a court order, is quick to share the story of a UAV mishap several months ago in Montgomery County, Texas where the Sheriff's Department had purchased a $300,000 drone with a $220,000 DHS grant. The department had engaged Vanguard Defense Industries to produce their helicopter-style drone called the Shadow Hawk, which is operated by a laptop computer with a screen that looks like a video game console.

During a press conference to unveil the device used in conjunction with the local SWAT team, the aircraft reached an altitude of some 18 feet when it lost contact with the control console and crashed into the department's armored vehicle called a "Bearcat" and damaged one of the rear-view mirrors. While Vanguard offered to repair the vehicle, the episode did little to instill confidence among local residents in the Houston community.

The Seattle police department has recently purchased a rather ominous heli-drone called the Dragonflyer X-6, a triple-bladed device that weighs only 3 pounds, is 36 inches long and costs about $40,000. This three-rotored device, unveiled last April, can carry a Lumix camera that can record video or infrared images at night or a payload up to 35 ounces.

Looking like something out of "Star Wars," the device has raised the ire of local Seattle residents. And the American Civil Liberties Union has serious problems with local law enforcement using drones to spy on civilians.

It was revealed at the meeting that the Seattle police are among some 50 state and local law enforcement departments that have been granted approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use drones domestically. …

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