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Scott Ellis 5:15 a.m., Aug. 5
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, is set to greatly expand due to approval of their expanded use in U.S. airspace by both Congress and President Obama, writes New Jersey columnist John Whitehead.
Today’s drone use is frequently associated with the military, as prominent coverage has been given to the Predator and Reaper attack drones designed by San Diego’s General Atomics. But models have also been developed as small as insects for purposes such as surveillance.
New regulations call for drone technology to be fully integrated within national airspace by 2015, and by 2020 estimates peg the total number of drones in use to be “at least 30,000,” which will be used by both government and corporate entities.
Already, consumer versions of drones, equipped with video cameras, are available to the public and easily controlled via smartphone. Some drones are designed to mimic the appearance and flight patterns of birds and insects to be able to fly without detection. Vanguard Defense Industries’ Shadowhawk drone, available now to law enforcement agencies, can be outfitted with weapons ranging from grenade launchers and shotguns to tear-gas canisters and rubber buckshot, which Whitehead fears could be unleashed on protest groups to disperse crowds.
Whitehead blames lobbyist money in forcing through the expanded drone use under the guise of a Federal Aviation Association reauthorization bill. Of 53 members of a House of Representatives drone caucus, 15 have received a total of $68,000 in contributions from General Atomics alone.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicles International, a group with 507 corporate members across 55 countries “is responsible for the language in the FAA bill which mandates the accelerated implementation of drone technology,” writes Whitehead. “Thus, our so-called representatives and the corporations which support them will make a great deal of money off of the decimation of Americans’ privacy rights.”