Saturday, October 29, 2011

Droning on in Montgomery County: Unmanned aircraft could be mounted with weapons

Must we? Really?

From Montgomery County, the headline of the Click2Houston story was "New police drone near Houston could carry weapons." "To be in on the ground floor of this is pretty exciting for us here in Montgomery County," Sheriff Tommy Gage said, reassuringly, adding "We're not going to use it to be invading somebody's privacy. It'll be used for situations we have with criminals." Got that? Move along. Nothing to see here. No, don't look up ...

How much you wanna bet this new technology spawns a new felony of some sort next session for shooting a paintball or throwing a rock at a police drone flying over your backyard? Do you remember the brilliant shot from the intro to The Wire where the kid hurls a rock at the surveillance camera, cracking the lens? Run this drone flying low in urban areas and you're going to get a little of that. Also, the headlines won't be so cheerful the first time the remote pilot crashes the thing or flies into a building or through the electrical wires.

Of course, DPS is already operating drones in border counties (and elsewhere in the state), as is the federal government. Several Texas jurisdictions have bandied the idea about, including larger Harris County to the south, but Montgomery County is the first to decide that the technology is worth the bang for the buck ($300K plus fuel and ground staffing). The Sheriff has said he won't use the drone for traffic enforcement, but that doesn't mean that he won't change his mind about that, or that the next guy won't.

The legal theory allowing them to fly over your house with a camera zooming in to snap your picture is that police aren't invading your privacy if they see something while in a "public space" - in this case public airspace flying over your house with a zoom lens - from a spot off your property where they don't need your permission to be. That makes it formally constitutional, I suppose, since existing Supreme Court precedents have failed in any meaningful way to apply 18th century privacy principles to 21st century technology. But just because Justices Alito, Thomas, Roberts, Scalia and Kennedy (at least) would probably consider it constitutional doesn't make it any less creepy. The Legislature could and should regulate police drone use or even ban it except for certain, limited circumstances.

Whatever they do, I'd prefer the Lege decide on the front end, i.e., in 2013: Don't wait around for years like they did with red-light cameras, where dozens of jurisdictions adopted the technology before the Lege got around to creating rules to govern them. This technology isn't going away, so lawmakers should get out in front of the privacy issues surrounding its use by police agencies.

This appears to be a promo video for the model UAV purchased by the Montgomery County Sheriff:

Noisier than I'd expected, and rather unnerving for use in an urban setting, particularly if it were armed. I wonder what the rules would be regarding private use, e.g., by paparazzi or something?


Anonymous said...

Spy planes watching the activities of law abiding citizens makes us feel even more like criminals and less like Americans in the land of the free and the home of the brave. This is NOT how my America operates. In time it will be armed.That is the only reason they got one with such capabilities. Who had to approve the purchase and the sale?

Anonymous said...

DPS is arming their patrol boats and aircraft with machine guns. Why not Montgomery County? Once the iron curtain goes up all will be much better.

Anonymous said...

"I use Wagner. Scares the hell out of the rednecks"-LTC Kilgore

Anonymous said...

There's a perfect example of a Sheriffs dept that has 300K of money to cut out of the budget.

Kenneth D. Franks said...

Not just a little scary but very.

John K said...

What do you know, the new police drone is a black helicopter.

Anonymous said...

This drone was paid for by a Department of Homeland Security grant. And in an updated story, the price tag climbed to 500K.

With heat sensory technology this is certain to be used to spot pot growing operations hidden in home closets and garages, which I believe was already ruled unconstitutional.

But according to the chief deputy “It’s to protect the citizens of Montgomery County more than anything else,”.

Anonymous said...

Somehow I'm inclined to agree w/anon 09:29:00; they'll go after the home users who hurt only themselves.

Meanwhile, you can call in and report your rural neighbor for cooking meth (the air will be so foul there's really no doubt) and their excuse for doing nothing is that "there isn't enough manpower to deal with that situation." Gee thanks guys- I'll feel much safer when you bust all the potheads while my meth-cooking neighbor stockpiles guns and makes a product that will hurt more than just himself.


jimbobob8 said...

I bet the east German, communist, government told the people, "This curtain, is to Keep the capitalist out"

Anonymous said...

Intellistreets, cops with drones,etc., as if tazers weren't bad enough!

While the U.S wastes its resources intentionally abroad, all of us are now targets of the local "law enforcement" apparatus that has been put in place over many years.

Just another reason to revolt.
Occupy everything folks, it's getting ugly out there.
Welcome to 1984!

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, Mao Tse Tung had the solution to this way back.
“The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”
-Chairman Mao

An urban high rise, high population environment would foil this anti-people device.

But since we are talking Montgomery County here...perhaps a nice low-power scoped .22 magnum rifle. Or Bubba's ubiquitous 12 gauge with a load of buckshot.
More fun than shootin' skeet, by far.

Anonymous said...

Being a citizen of Montgomery County I am here to tell you that it is Montgomery County we need to be protected from.

Anonymous said...

It is unbelievable that meals to prisoners are cut due to lack of money and yet they feel it is alright to spend all this money to make it easier to put more people in jail. They will fill there jails with innocent people. To pay for upkeep of this. I think It might be better use of the funds to educate some of there "officers" on constitutional rights. Being a law abiding citizen in Montgomery County does not save you from the "Justice System" in place there. It is much safer for them to go after people that will not shoot back at them. People that cook meth are much more likely to shoot. They will go after the easy target, its safer for them and its not about the crime its about the money generated from the arrest...any arrest be it warranted or not. Sad unbelievable..but true