Security, Privacy Experts Testify To Congress On Spy Drones

Lobbyists attempt to convince Congress that unmanned vehicles over US pose no threat

Steve Watson
July 19, 2012

Security and privacy experts have today given testimony to a congressional hearing on the anticipated increased use of unmanned drones in US airspace.

Several important issues were raised during the House Homeland Security Oversight Subcommittee hearing “Using Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the Homeland: Security Game Changer?”

The chairman of the homeland security subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, noted that unmanned aerial systems are a boost to military and border control operations, but their growing use concerns many citizens.

“These systems are now being used in the United States by law enforcement, government agencies and even academic institutions,” McCaul said in a statement. “Some Americans worry such systems will become invasive ‘eyes-in-the-sky’. Others say domestic drones will eventually be armed. However, no Federal agency is taking responsibility for creating comprehensive policies and regulations concerning the use of these systems domestically.

“Additionally, vulnerabilities to ‘drone’ hackers exist, as recently demonstrated by researchers at the University of Texas, raising concerns these vehicles could be commandeered by terrorists or others with ill intent. Our hearing will examine DHS’s role in the domestic use of unmanned aerial systems and determine the extent to which the Department is prepared to ensure oversight of domestic drones.”

In addition, University of Texas Professor Todd Humphreys testified about how his teamrecently demonstrated how to “spoof” a sophisticated drone using relatively basic components and take full control of the vehicle.

Humphreys built an advanced spoofer at a cost of just $1000, and has successfully infiltrated the GPS systems of several drones. He has demonstrated to Homeland Security and FAA officials that all he has to do is send a more powerful signal to the drone than it is receiving from an orbiting satellite and he can make the vehicle do anything he commands.

Humphreys has previously noted that he is worried about drones being hijacked and used as weapons, noting that they could be purposefully crashed into other planes and buildings.

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) CEO Michael Toscano, essentially a lobbyists for drone manufacturers, said in prepared testimony that hacking a unmanned aerial vehicle is “outside the capability of any average American citizen” and very difficult to pull off in real-world conditions.

“To successfully spoof a GPS signal, one must have the equipment and capability to broadcast a counterfeit signal at a high enough power level to overpower the GPS signals emanating from more than 20 satellites in orbit around the earth…” The testimony reads.

“If the target vehicle is not in close proximity to the spoofing device, this requires a detection system such as radar. Meanwhile, custom software is needed to make adjustments to the target vehicle’s course,” the testimony continues.

On the second panel at today’s congressional hearing, Amie Stepanovich of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) testified regarding the privacy implications of domestic drone use. She was joined by Gerald Dillingham Director of Civil Aviation for GAO, and Chief Deputy William McDaniel of the Montgomery County (TX) Sheriff’s Office, that has said that it is considering using rubber bullets and tear gas on its unmanned drone.

In February, EPIC, joined by over 100 prominent privacy watchdog groups, organizations, experts, and members of the public, petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the proposed increase in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the skies above the US.

Over 30 rights groups, including The American Civil Liberties Union and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee are demanding that the FAA hold a rulemaking session to consider the privacy and safety threats posed by the increased use of drones.

The Agency has not yet responded to the petition or addressed privacy concerns. The petition recommends that the FAA develop privacy rules, that DHS conduct a privacy assessment, and that Congress establish new privacy safeguards.

The federal government is in the process of rolling out new rules on the use of the unmanned drones, with the FAA announcing procedures will “streamline” the process through which government agencies, including local law enforcement, receive licenses to operate the aircraft.

Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.

Critics have warned that the FAA has not acted to establish any safeguards whatsoever, and that congress is not holding the agency to account.

In addition, A recently uncovered Air Force document circumvents laws and clear the way for the Pentagon to use drones to monitor the activities of Americans.

The Department of Defense has also recently been caught in blatant lies concerning the use of drones in domestic airspace.

Manufacturers of drones, almost exclusively defense contractors, have spent $2.3 million so far on lobbying Congress to open up US airspace.

Virginia Lawmaker Looks To Strictly Regulate Spy Drones

Mandates that unauthorized images taken by unmanned planes be destroyed

Steve Watson
July 19, 2012

A Virginia Delegate is to introduce legislation that he says will enforce tight regulations on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the state.

C. Todd Gilbert (R) has joined forces with the ACLU, releasing a joint statement that lays out their intentions to “strictly” oversee the rollout of drones.

“Both the ACLU and I believe, as do many Virginians across the political spectrum, that the use of drones by police and other government agencies should be strictly controlled by state laws that protect the privacy and civil rights of all Virginia residents,” Gilbert said.

“I will be introducing legislation in the 2013 General Assembly Session to i) prohibit the use of drones by law enforcement unless a warrant has been issued; ii) require that policies and procedures for the use of drones be adopted by legislative bodies in open meetings; iii) provide for public monitoring and accountability; and iv) mandate that pictures of individuals acquired by drones be destroyed unless they are part of an authorized investigation.” the statement reads.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, echoed Delegate Gilbert’s remarks:

“Delegate Gilbert is right to be concerned about the possibility that, without new laws, this new and increasingly inexpensive technology will be used in a manner that will violate the fundamental right to be free from unreasonable searches and will have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of Virginians to assemble peaceably and speak freely. We are proud to be working with Delegate Gilbert to build a coalition in favor of the legislation he will introduce — a coalition that will bring together diverse voices from across the Commonwealth.”

The Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, is on the record saying he endorses the use of drones domestically for police surveillance.

During a recent interview on WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” program, McDonnell stated:

“I think it’s great. I think we ought to be using technology to make law enforcement more productive — it cuts down on manpower in the air — and more safe. That’s why we use it on the battlefield.”

“We need to address civil liberties like privacy, but I believe if you’re keeping police officers safe, making it more productive and saving money … it’s absolutely the right thing to do.” McDonnell added.

Delegate Gilbert’s bill, which will now work its way through the legislature, outlines the following restrictions and notices on drone use by the government and law enforcement in Virginia:

• Usage restrictions. Drones should be subject to strict regulation to ensure that their use by government, law enforcement, and private entities does not trample individual privacy rights. For example, legislation should prohibit the use of drones for indiscriminate mass surveillance or for monitoring protected First Amendment activities. In general, legislation should ban all government and government-sponsored use of drones except where:

there are specific and stated reasons to believe that a drone will collect evidence relating to a specific instance of criminal wrongdoing and where the government has obtained a warrant based on probable cause; or

there is a geographically confined, time-limited emergency situation in which particular people’s lives are at risk, such as a fire, hostage crisis, or land- or water-based search and rescue operation; or

the drone is used for reasonable non-law enforcement purposes by non-law enforcement agencies, where privacy will not be substantially affected, such as geological inspections or environmental surveys, and where the surveillance will not be used for secondary law enforcement purposes or enforcement of administrative regulations.

• Image retention restrictions. Images of identifiable individuals captured by aerial surveillance technologies should not be retained or shared unless there is reasonable suspicion that the images contain evidence of criminal activity or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or pending criminal trial.

• Public notice. The policies and procedures for the use of aerial surveillance technologies should be explicit, written, and public. While it is legitimate for the police to keep the details of particular investigations confidential, overall policies governing deployment of drones — including the privacy tradeoffs they may entail — are a public matter that should be subject to public oversight and accountability.

• Democratic control. Policy decisions regarding the purchase and deployment of drones should be democratically decided by appropriate legislative bodies (e.g., city councils, county boards, or the General Assembly) based on publicly available information and in open meetings — not made administratively by police departments or other law enforcement or regulatory agencies (e.g., through receipt of federal grants, purchasing decisions, or by inclusion in the general orders of law enforcement agencies).

• Auditing and effectiveness tracking. Public agencies should not invest in drones without a clear, systematic, and public examination of the costs and benefits involved. If aerial surveillance technology is deployed, independent audits should track the use of drones by all government agencies, so that all Virginians can tell generally how and how often they are being used, whether their use is consistent with the original rationale for their deployment and whether they represent a worthwhile public expenditure.