Mark Frauenfelder at 11:18 am Tue, Jan 12, 2010
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This looks like fun! Houston Police using secret unmanned drone aircrafts to spy on folks.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His latest book is Made by Hand: My Adventures in the World of DIY
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Warrants?? We don’t need no warrants! Harris Cty sheriff Garcia was looking to buy some .30 or .50 cal machine guns for his patrol boat and that was kiboshed, maybe we can close the books on this too, since CoH cncl last year approved a dozen new choppers…which will need about 25 new pilots, 50 new ‘observers’ a whole gang of mechanics to keep ‘em flying…it never ends.
I’m inclined to agree with anonymous coward #19 on some of this: it’s a little but too sensationalist for me. That being said, belated kudos to the news team for covering/opening up something that clearly the Houston PD wanted under wraps.
That being said, I fail to see how this is any different (legally speaking) than police helicopters. So what if you can’t hear them? Big deal. As anonymous coward #55 pointed out, in order to use infared cameras to bust pot growers, a search warrant was needed. This *shouldn’t* be any different. Frankly, let the police run more drones instead of helicopters. Drones are safer, cheaper, and probably more stable and less likely to crash.
On the other hand, if these became floating drones that could fly up to your house window and peer in, that would be different; they should need a subpeona. (That being said, if a cop walks up to your house and sees through your open blinds you growing pot or other illegal activities, they have the right to enter/arrest/seize etc. since YOUR BLINDS ARE OPEN! These drones can’t see through blinds or roofs (without infrared or the tech from the body scanners at airports).
I don’t like the US becoming a “police state” and I firmly believe in my right to privacy, yada yada. But ultimately, as I already said, how is this different from police helicopters or traffic planes?
Teapot: I think you’re thinking too far ahead: it’s almost like you’re suggesting that the police drones will start following everyone everywhere all the time. Once again, these things don’t see through roofs (without infrared etc). Yes, these are much cheaper to operate than helicopters so more police agencies can buy them. While some will surely spend them to catch speeders on the highway (thus assessing speeding fines leading to more $$ to the government to spend on more drones or perhaps to balance state budgets or fritter away on useless stuff like the government usually does), I think/hope police agencies are more likely to use them to help with surveillance in situations they need surveillance and might otherwise have used a helicopter (say, watching drug dealers on a street corner from 1000 feet up so as to build evidence to arrest said drug dealers) but were likely turned down because helicopters were better utilized for police chases or whatever.
However, I don’t buy the whole “why worry about invasion of our privacy because if you’re not doing anything illegal you don’t need to worry” generally speaking. Let’s be a little honest here though, the police aren’t likely to be following you with drone unless you are doing something illegal. Yes nanny state is bad. Of course police officers are human like the rest of us and can succumb to petty, vindictive use (read: waste) of police resources for a variety of personal or other reasons and there is no doubt that police have wasted a lot of resources on conducting surveillance on people they shouldn’t have (like the Maryland State Police shenanigans from a few years ago and many other times too numerous to mention). I’m starting to ramble, but even if the police did follow me overhead with a drone, I doubt they’d see me doing anything more interesting that speeding and occasionally turning right on red when I’m not supposed to (of which I’ll bitch up a storm because I hate paying speeding tickets). After all, they can’t see through my closed blinds or through my roof to see all the movies and music I “borrow and just try them out but really honestly will buy the movie or music or software if I like the product” (read: pirate). Frankly, the vast majority of people are BORING! They don’t do anything illegal.
Ultimately, although I think there are plenty of cases of “In the name of terrorism” gone too far, I don’t think this is what’s happening here. I’m more worried about the TSA idiots posting nudie pictures of famous people online. Wait, did I say I’m worried. I meant eagerly waiting.
P.S. I use the phrase “on the other hand” too much.
“Work out privacy and legality later…” i.e., we’ll run this program quietly at least until someone sues us, then we’ll claim it was done in good faith and stonewall as long as we can.
This type of UAV takes at least 2 trained operators. There are limits to what you can see from 1-3000 feet up (the news report makes bogus and sensational claims about seeing into cars and houses–IR night vision, yes, but no X-rays). It’s usually going to be cheaper and more effective to send two officers in a car to investigate. UAVs have possible applications for border patrol, riot control, hostage situations, search and rescue, and maybe searching remote locations for pot farms, but there’s no need to give up nude sunbathing on your roof just yet.
Just wanted to echo the cheers for the local news that takes the time to investigate news that really matters. Actually taking a bit of a risk, yet holding their ground to get the story out. Instead of just toeing the line and covering useless feel good stories or baseless scare tactics that lead prime citizens for the loss of more liberties…they’re questioning authority.
good job on these reporters sticking to their guns and camping out to get this story. The fact that the police department needed to give that rather hasty press release shows exactly why this kind of public reporting is needed. More kudos for actually bringing up how stupid of an excuse “terrorism” is for these kind of things.
When running this kind of ‘shocking new story’ video, please research and include the date before posting.
click2houston apparently ran this story in *2007*.
While I’m disappointed that this kind of gov behavior hasn’t dried up under the current administration, something like this happening in 2007 under Bush is no surprise. Nobody ignored limits on gov power or even basic human decency like Bush.
The story is apparently a couple years old (www.click2houston[dotcom]/investigates/14659066/detail.html). Resurrected on youtube to give conspiracy theorists their daily dose of paranoia. Cops have been using planes and helicopters for decades. Why does doing the same thing without a pilot suddenly make this a chilling invasion of privacy?
Madair is right, It’s not more of an invasion of privacy than helicopters/planes. It can’t see anywhere those things can’t. About the “HPD Says it will tackle privacy & illegal search issues later” quote. It’s not like they were USING it yet, the woman said she wasn’t really prepared to make a statement, they were just testing a new toy in the country.
@Catcubed. You are complaining that the government found a way to do the same job for less money. How is that a bad thing?
MadAir & Anon #54:
Do you think this new cost effective option will reduce expenditure? Wrong… they just get more for their dollar, which means more info on your ass – for the same price. Thats where the increassed invasion of privacy comes in to play, buddy.
Looks like an Insitu ScanEagle, in case anybody was wondering. They’re very versatile little drones, although not originally intended for civilian police work.
Not so secret now, are they? Ha!
Addressing privacy and search warrant issues after it’s fully funded and in operation? Fucking assholes.
What are the chances that the video downlink is encrypted on these devices, given that it isn’t on U.S. military drones?
This Houston Station needs to be at National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas (April) with a booth and seminar for training other stations nationwide to do their job properly, like these guys obviously do. Media is SUPPOSED to be covering our backs in society, not working with big brother to bury our freedoms. Good Job!! Kudos..
no more flashing truckers through your sun roof in houston, ladies
It looks like a sales event.
If had I bothered to watch the entire thing, they do mention that. It’s a cool aircraft out of Washington State which got it’s origins in civilian maritime work, and then was modified for military.
Not a bad bit of reporting, actually. I wish more local news agencies were this willing to put their officials in a tough spot.
@MadAir the reason drones are more of an issue than Helicopters is that you can hear Helicopters coming and that it’s easier and cheaper to use drones which would encourage the police to use them all the time.
compact infrared guidance system
To be fair to the police, there are a lot of applications for this that overlap with the things a police helicopter would normally do, and I’m sure it’s a lot cheaper to fly and maintain than a helicopter. That said, it is a lot less noticeable than a helicopter flying circles around your house.
Eight years after 9/11, and Bin Laden is free, but I am not. Thanks, Homeland Security, Patriot Act, Dick Cheney and the Houston PD.
If HPD is lying about the airspace being restricted, they’ll probably lie about how they are going to use the drone too!
My word, was that some actual investigative reporting? I am shocked and impressed. Well done, local news team. Well done indeed.
Then again, what does it say when I’m congratulating people for doing their jobs?
Good catch, Mark! And yes I echo the “good to see that local news guys don’t back off when they get a boogabooga from the local cops” sentiment.
“HPD Says it will tackle privacy & illegal search issues later”
Seriously folks.. WTF is going on here in the US?
This is a good example showing that a static view of our Bill of Rights doesn’t work. Technology outstrips earlier concepts of search and seizure law so long as a narrow view of privacy is taken.
Technology outstrips earlier concepts of search and seizure law so long as a narrow view of privacy is taken.
Do you believe that is an informed opinion? because i do not.
“Do you believe that is an informed opinion? because i do not.”
So, I’m not only wrong, but ignorant? yikes. Please, lay some knowledge on me, because aside from calling me some kind of fool, you didn’t risk an opinion.
Relatively slow, low-flying drones, in a state that prides itself on gun ownership?
…I’ll make the popcorn.
One word: PULL! ;)
I imagine it would be fun shooting these things out of the sky with paintball guns? I’m just askin’ questions.
Cowicide@47: I imagine it would be fun shooting these things out of the sky with paintball guns? I’m just askin’ questions.
I believe asking questions has been outlawed under the Patriot Act. ;-)
Exactly. I wonder how low they plan on flying those things without a warrant.
Anyway, good on the local news for not backing down. That “restricted airspace” bluff just demonstrated that HPD is willing to lie to hide what they’re doing. Let’s see…. violation of Constitutional rights; misappropriation of pubilc funds; terroristic threats… yep, they’re enemy combatants.
Well, flying them isn’t an issue. Where they point their cameras/radar guns/etc. is an issue. They would only need a warrant for looking at certain things. If something is in general public view from the air, no warrant is needed. Assuming the same standard applies to these things as to other police activity, anyway.
Now that’s the spirit we all need to have.
No one should be in the least bit surprised at HPD’s secret testing of the unmanned drone, their being busted for doing so, or for the “last minute” news conference to cover u….I mean explain, their actions. Ladies and gentlemen…big brother is indeed watching and he doesn’t give a damn about a single one of your civil rights. After all, it will all be couched under the fight on the GWOT (Global War On Terror) which in turn will make everyone more secure. Sure it will.
Now I’m curious about that other crashed drone.
Can I just say that as an American and a Houstonian I’m really proud of Stephen Dean and KPRC for this report? I mean, local media calling out “terrorism fears since 9/11 to push the envelope further into our private lives?” That’s awesome, and I hope they keep it up.
Firesign Theatre said it best:
(sfx marching feet, sirens)
(v.o. male voices) “Police State! Police State! Police State!”
(v.o. female voice) “Help, it’s the Police!”
& the fuzzy line between police & military gets blurrier & blurrier…
You know I sort of wish the extreme survivalists had been right and the New World Order had shown up out of the shadows to take over the world; at least then there’d be some sinister reason for the erosion of privacy and the birth of the surveillance society.
Instead it all seems to be fuelled by abject stupidity and the whims of pearl clutching curtain twitchers.
Looks like they’d make pretty good targets to me!
8″ piece of PVC pipe
Model rocket engine wrapped with duct tape to just fit in the pipe.
Use PVC to glue the engine into the pipe.
Fill with black powder or gunpowder.
Glue a pipe cap on the top end.
Duct tape a 36″ X 1/8th” dowel to the pipe. Add duct tape fin to the other end, if you like.
Launch toward target, 1500′ high is easy to reach, depending on the size of the engine.
With practice, you can learn how to add break-away 1st & 2nd stage engines to reach over 4,000 high.
Somebody almost shot down a twin engine light aircraft that was taking off from a local airport with one of these, so be careful.
a touch of sensational reporting.
Air space closed? well yeah. Air space is closed all the time. They’re demoing a product, you close a part of the airspace. nothing-special-about-that.
I work on wildfires and thank the gods the airspaces are closed or you would have some idiot reporter in a helicopter flying right into
UAVs. Really, this is nothing new. Hobbyists have been doing this sort of thing for years.
I don’t who is worse sometimes. Governments or media.
Airspace is close all the time, that is true. But it’s done through a formal process established by the FAA. Any pilot who wants to hang on to his license checks for notification of these closures called Notices To Airmen or NOTAMs in the area where he will be flying. A failure to abide by a NOTAM can lead to suspension of a pilot’s license.
The fact that the pilot of the TV station’s helicopter said there was no closure is good enough for me. The fact that the police claimed a closure seems like they’re muscling in on the FAA’s jurisdiction.
What I want to know is how they plan to keep them (and military UAVs, for that matter) from colliding with manned civil aircraft. It’s only a matter of time if these things come into widespread use before on collides with a light aircraft (like a news helicopter) and sends a tangle of flaming wreckage into a schoolyard.
I also wanted to commend the local news for this story. In my city, they do a lot of “scare” stories that are baseless, but this is actually scary. Working out privacy and legality later? You’ve got to be kidding me. Do they have John Yoo heading up this project?
I’m proud the local media was willing to air the important questions surrounding privacy and civil liberties.
It would be fun to follow one of these with an RC airplane with a fly-by camera setup. (http://makered.makezine.com/video/flying-rc-airplane-by-wireless).
Is anyone even remotely surprised at this?
I remember hearing about them being deployed in New York a few years back. Is anyone really that surprised about them using whatever technology they can to spy on us? Just wait until we start hearing about the drones being armed to protect us against illegal immigrants/drug dealers/terrorists/child pornographers/loose women or whatever the enemy du jour will be.
Nothing a couple of ounces of birdshot won’t cure.
Since possession is nine tenths of the law, if one crashes on my property is it mine?
How about having your own rc plane so you could do aerial dogfights with their plane?
Prof. Rocky Rhodes? Are you shitting me?
tax dollars at play…
It’s a ScanEagle: http://www.insitu.com/scaneagle
Having worked with these things, I know that once they get above about 1500 ft (a relatively low altitude), you can neither see nor hear them. They’re just too small.
Didn’t know that law enforcement were using them. Seems more or less obvious once you think about it.
Holy crap, actual investigative reporting done by a local news team. Compared to the normal shit, this is gold. Great work, Dean and KPRC. Great work.
Whats the difference between a clay pigeon and a police drone?
Police drones are bigger and easier targets.
I normally wouldnt support guns, but this is one instance where privacy must be protected. This crap is one step closer to Minority Report.
I normally wouldnt support guns, but this is one instance where privacy must be protected.
Greeny, you and I often disagree – but today we are on the same page. If I lived in Houston I would now have a new hobby.
I’ll tackle legality issues later.
Has the FAA changed the legal status of UAVs? Last I remember there was absolutely no legal way to fly a UAV other than as a hobbiest or a tester. In 2006 (a little before this video) the LA County Sheriff’s Department caught hell from the FAA for trying just such a program. http://lemonodor.com/archives/001405.html
Apparently LACSD has found some way of at least moving forward with testing/training, but it doesn’t appear they’ve yet found a way to actually use them: http://www.policeone.com/police-products/communications/articles/1855712-Communicating-with-UAVs-Unmanned-Aerial-Vehicles-for-Emergency-Services/ and http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/4327665.html
Drone, drone, drone, pilotless airplane, drone!
CHIEF WIGGUM OF THE HPD: “Do not be alarmed. Continue swimming naked. Oh, come on! Continue! Come on! Aw… all right, Lou, open fire.”
My rough recollection from law school is that at first aircraft were alright (did not require a warrant)if they were above the flight floor which I recall was 300 feet. Then helicopters below the flight floor were ok as long as they didn’t raise dust. My thought/comment at the time was when will they have drones that can be 5 feet off the ground with out making any noise or raising any dust. Clearly a pro-police(state) could find that there is no reasonable expectation that a drone could not be outside your window at any time because it is common knowledge that they exist and are used by the police, so keep your windows shuttered and blinds drawn. The counter argument would be that the police must get a warrant as when they were forced to when using infrared cameras to bust pot growers which was found to be an invasion.
A drone with infra red camera now your talking.
Not that the potential uses of drones isn’t worrying, but think about it.
This is a news report in pretty mainstream media (correct me if I’m wrong here), although local such. If the powers that are really didn’t want you to know about it, it wouldn’t be in the news. Which probably means that there is something far worse that is still hidden from the general public.
I admit I sound very much like a conspiracy theorist now, but historically this is pretty much the way new laws and regulations that restrict privacy comes into place. Start small and get poeple to accept it, then go for something slightly more restrictive with the pretence of national security for example…
Sorry, but this is no sensation to me.
For years now, the US federal Department of Homeland Security has been in the business of handing out huge “anti-terrorism” grants to local-yokel police departments. The result: small-town cops now have the money to buy more military gear than they know what to do with.
It’s just going to keep getting worse, because neither Congress, nor DHS, nor local officials have any incentives to stop the gravy train.
And “concerned citizens” who aren’t bringing any money to the table? They’re not even a blip on the radar.
Also: Houston, where is your Annise Parker now?
@madair nice find this story is over two years old, they have either scrapped the program by now, or have already used/abused it repeatedly
Hey Spinkter, you want to clue us in on what frequency range these things transmit/receive control and data signals on?
“Gentlemen, the President, with the consent of Congress, has acted to form a watchbird division for every city and town in the country.”
@ Boba Fett, these things just fly too high and too fast to be hit by birdshot cartridges, you would need a precision rifle to get that distance on a fixed target, but good luck hitting something so fast. I would rather try to direct a powerful radio jamming generator antenna at them without being spotted. That solution, even if only in part effective should anyway make them recall it or change its route.
Or, like that old 007 movie, use a giant RC plane that opens its fuselage, eats the evil drone, then brings it back to us to scavenge its parts.
Mmmmm… military grade servos and motors!
I am of two minds here. Insitu is based in my home town and has done a great deal to help carry an old sawmill town through the recession. I love the tech but what kind of corporate neighbor do you want operating in your town? A job is a job?
Try living homeless for a couple of months because you lost your job and then your lease.
I wish NYC would start using these quiet drones rather than the #*_(^%! noisy helicopters!
Ahhhh manhacks! Run!
Just one more reason for me to not be too fond of Texas. No offense intended to the sane Texans out there.
@Anon #26: I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed that. I wonder if he moonlights as a professional wrestler on the weekends.
Oddly enough, it is a nickname. http://www.stcl.edu/faculty-dir/Rocky_Rhodes.htm His actual first name is Charles.
Unrelated note: I will be changing my first name to Garage
Garage Dorr is good. Back Dorr and Doggie Dorr are not.
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