Whatever would I do without great posts from Boing Boing like this? The YouTube video embedded therein is a news report from KPRC-TV (which Houston folks will know as Channel 2, our local NBC affiliate). Stephen Dean reports on what was supposed to be a secret test of unmanned aerial drones conducted by the Houston Police Department (HPD). I’ve embedded it below for ease of commenting, but I do recommend you check out the Boing Boing post linked above for the comments.
[Edit 2016-04-05: the original video was deleted when the YouTube account was terminated due to multiple copyright infringement incidents. I have replaced it with another link I found, still online today.]
The scary part is a quote at 2:54 into the video:
Back at the secret test site, police helicopters claimed the entire airspace was restricted. They even threatened our Local 2 Investigates pilot with action from the FAA if we didn’t leave. But we checked with the FAA several times and there never was a flight restriction. That leaves some to wonder whether the police are ready to use terrorism fears since 9/11 to push the envelope even further into our private lives.
Really, HPD? What jurisdiction are you operating under? Airspace is the FAA’s jurisdiction; local police departments cannot arbitrarily restrict airspace. If local police were allowed to restrict airspace at will we would have total chaos, and there would be little use for the FAA at all.
The KPRC-TV news team had every right to gather the information they did. It is unfortunate that the law enforcement agencies running this exhibition (particularly HPD) did not secure the proper airspace restriction from the FAA, relying instead on the “no media allowed” on the invitation and bully tactics.
I think HPD is owed a visit by the FAA for what certainly appears to be a nominal disrespect of Federal law, possibly much worse. Law enforcement agencies must operate within the law, or risk losing the respect of the citizens which they have sworn to protect and serve. Example: Ever seen a police cruiser blasting by you, well in excess of the posted limits, without lights? They’ll say it’s a “code 2” or something similar, an emergency that’s just enough of an emergency that speed limits can go out the window, but not for lights and siren. Now, no matter what emergency we, the common citizens have, we are subject to getting a ticket if we do that. The same goes for stop signs and red lights, or even parking tickets.
And I’m not even touching on the downright creepy surveillance allowed by this technology yet. That’s almost a whole rant in and of itself. The fact that HPD went to these lengths to hide their new toy (which quite possibly fly in the face the First Amendment of the US Constitution in addition to FAA regulations) is quite chilling, and makes me wonder what kind of a society we live in now in \2010. The report mentions speed limit enforcement as one possibility; I think I made my viewpoint clear on that above. This is the stuff of dystopian sci-fi novels, made into reality. Sorry to disappoint, but I’d prefer as much of that be kept fiction as possible.