According to this source, however, it's not just that Collin County is restricted space but the FAA simply does not approve unmanned drones for routine law enforcement use outside of a couple of pilot programs. "Despite pressure from some law enforcement agencies, the FAA is holding firm to its policy against routine use of unmanned aerial vehicles. "There is nothing to our knowledge and no UAS technology at this time that would allow unmanned aircraft to meet the same 'see and avoid' [regulatory technical] standard that manned aircraft have to operate under," FAA spokesman Les Dorr recently told GovTech.com (06/09)
The Courier-Gazette described similar barriers for Collin County:
Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association headquartered in Frederick, Ma., said he isn't aware of any police agencies or sheriff's department who have fully implemented the technology because of the same problem.In their coverage of the topic, the Dallas News reported that:
He said the vehicles have to be under a constant monitor while they are in the air and don't have the technology to sense other objects in their airspace.
"All (unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) all lack sense and avoid capability," Dancy said. "A lot of work is being done on that in the aviation industry and our association is working on ways to safely integrate UAVs into airspace so they can share the same space with manned aircraft safely. We're not oppose UAVs. We're just not able to operate them safely in the same airspace with manned aircraft."
New advancements in technology has made UAVs smaller and more economical, but even something as small as a bird can cause problems, Dancy said.
"What a lot of law enforcement agencies have been looking at are fairly small lightweight UAV systems that would operate in relatively low altitudes," Dancy said. "The problem is if you've ever seen the affects of a bird strike on a small or large aircraft and when you have objects moving at such fairly high speeds, it doesn't take lot to cause significant damage to any type aircraft."
The county was pursuing the plans knowing the FAA hadn't approved the use of the aircraft in heavily populated areas. That agency has temporarily allowed Houston and Miami to fly drones as part of a study of how their police departments use them.I'd heard Houston was testing unmanned drones, but didn't realize the study was still going on. I wonder what they're using them for? I can see uses like search and rescue assistance after Hurricane Ike when the tool could have been incredibly helpful. But I also see many problems with using the technology in service of routine law enforcement. It's obvious that there are powerful military-industrial complex interests with big stakes in expanding markets for these drones.
In addition to safety concerns, unmanned drones raise issues of modern technology bumping up against antiquated interpretations of the Fourth Amendment and American privacy rights. Current case law has a "plain sight" exception to the Fourth Amendment, but plain sight takes on a different connotation when, in an urban area, police fly unmanned spy drones over fenced backyards or conceivably even use zoom lenses to peer into windows. That's "plain sight" of a decidedly not so plain variety (or rather, of a "plane" variety"), which raises questions traditional search and seizure law finds itself particularly ill-equipped to answer.