To recap: In the last year, there has been increasing focus on the issue of domestic use of aerial drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, “UAVs”) to conduct surveillance. Several months ago, Congress approved the FAA reauthorization bill, which includes a provision to integrate the use of aerial surveillance by drones in the United States by 2015. Read a previous post for more on the privacy and civil liberty questions, as well as deadlines for domestic use of drones. Also, read these previous news articles on the issue, from: the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today.
Now, drone makers have sought to answer concerns by releasing voluntary guidelines, but the privacy questions remain. Also, there are security questions, as well, as a recent drone “hijacking” proves. First, the voluntary code of conduct, which is not legally binding on the companies that agree to abide by the guidelines. The code states, “We will respect the privacy of individuals.” There are no details on how individuals’ privacy will be respected. The Associated Press reports:
A trade group for drone aircraft manufacturers and operators has released the industry’s first code of conduct in response to growing privacy concerns.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said Monday that the recommendations for “safe, non-intrusive operation” are meant to guide operators and reassure a public leery of the possibility of spy drones flying undetected over their homes. […]
Citizens, civil liberties groups and politicians have voiced worries that the small aircraft raise the specter of a “surveillance society.” Currently there are only about 300 authorized federal permits to operate such aircraft, along with an unknown number of unlicensed amateurs, who are supposed to keep their aircraft within sight.
The new recommendations by the association, a non-profit based in Arlington, Va., that has members in more than 60 countries, pledge to “respect the privacy of individuals” and the concerns of the public and to follow all federal, state and local laws. They also pledge to ensure that remote drone pilots are properly trained and to respect “other users of the airspace.”
The language on privacy is good, but it’s not enough, American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Chris Calabrese said. […]
Calabrese added that ultimately even well-meaning guidelines from a private group aren’t legally binding on public and private organizations around the country.
“I think Congress needs to step in. This is new technology. It’s potentially incredibly invasive,” he said. “People are profoundly discomforted by the idea of drones monitoring them.”
Second, CBS News reports that there are questions about the security protections for controlling drones:
A civilian drone aircraft was “hijacked” by Prof. Todd Humphreys and his graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin.
They were able to hack into the drone’s GPS signals.
Later, in an exercise done in conjuneciton with the Department of Homeland Security at White Sands, New Mexico, they were even able to make the drone land.
Humphreys told CBS News, “You can think of this as hijacking a plane from a distance. (It’s) as if you’re at the controls of the plane, because you’ve now captured the autopilot’s sense of its own navigation solution. And you can manipulate it left or right, up or down.”
The “hijackings” would seem to raise concerns about vulnerabilities in our domestic use of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles. […]
In a statement to CBS News, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said, “The unmanned aircraft used for the test are a different class and type than what (Customs and Border Protection) operates,” adding, ” … This test does not have any bearing on our Predators’ security.”
As a result of the exercise, Humphreys has been invited to testify before a congressional panel later this month. He’ll be recommending steps to prevent hacking into unmanned aerial vehicles in the future.