Lobbyists attempt to convince Congress that unmanned vehicles over US pose no threat
July 19, 2012
Security and privacy experts have today given testimony to a congressional hearing on the anticipated increased use of unmanned drones in US airspace.
Several important issues were raised during the House Homeland Security Oversight Subcommittee hearing “Using Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the Homeland: Security Game Changer?”
The chairman of the homeland security subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, noted that unmanned aerial systems are a boost to military and border control operations, but their growing use concerns many citizens.
“These systems are now being used in the United States by law enforcement, government agencies and even academic institutions,” McCaul said in a statement. “Some Americans worry such systems will become invasive ‘eyes-in-the-sky’. Others say domestic drones will eventually be armed. However, no Federal agency is taking responsibility for creating comprehensive policies and regulations concerning the use of these systems domestically.
“Additionally, vulnerabilities to ‘drone’ hackers exist, as recently demonstrated by researchers at the University of Texas, raising concerns these vehicles could be commandeered by terrorists or others with ill intent. Our hearing will examine DHS’s role in the domestic use of unmanned aerial systems and determine the extent to which the Department is prepared to ensure oversight of domestic drones.”
In addition, University of Texas Professor Todd Humphreys testified about how his team recently demonstrated how to “spoof” a sophisticated drone using relatively basic components and take full control of the vehicle.
Humphreys built an advanced spoofer at a cost of just $1000, and has successfully infiltrated the GPS systems of several drones. He has demonstrated to Homeland Security and FAA officials that all he has to do is send a more powerful signal to the drone than it is receiving from an orbiting satellite and he can make the vehicle do anything he commands.
Humphreys has previously noted that he is worried about drones being hijacked and used as weapons, noting that they could be purposefully crashed into other planes and buildings.
Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) CEO Michael Toscano, essentially a lobbyists for drone manufacturers, said in prepared testimony that hacking a unmanned aerial vehicle is “outside the capability of any average American citizen” and very difficult to pull off in real-world conditions.
“To successfully spoof a GPS signal, one must have the equipment and capability to broadcast a counterfeit signal at a high enough power level to overpower the GPS signals emanating from more than 20 satellites in orbit around the earth…” The testimony reads.
“If the target vehicle is not in close proximity to the spoofing device, this requires a detection system such as radar. Meanwhile, custom software is needed to make adjustments to the target vehicle’s course,” the testimony continues.
On the second panel at today’s congressional hearing, Amie Stepanovich of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) testified regarding the privacy implications of domestic drone use. She was joined by Gerald Dillingham Director of Civil Aviation for GAO, and Chief Deputy William McDaniel of the Montgomery County (TX) Sheriff’s Office, that has said that it is considering using rubber bullets and tear gas on its unmanned drone.
In February, EPIC, joined by over 100 prominent privacy watchdog groups, organizations, experts, and members of the public, petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the proposed increase in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the skies above the US.
Over 30 rights groups, including The American Civil Liberties Union and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee are demanding that the FAA hold a rulemaking session to consider the privacy and safety threats posed by the increased use of drones.
The Agency has not yet responded to the petition or addressed privacy concerns. The petition recommends that the FAA develop privacy rules, that DHS conduct a privacy assessment, and that Congress establish new privacy safeguards.
The federal government is in the process of rolling out new rules on the use of the unmanned drones, with the FAA announcing procedures will “streamline” the process through which government agencies, including local law enforcement, receive licenses to operate the aircraft.
Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.
Critics have warned that the FAA has not acted to establish any safeguards whatsoever, and that congress is not holding the agency to account.
In addition, A recently uncovered Air Force document circumvents laws and clear the way for the Pentagon to use drones to monitor the activities of Americans.
The Department of Defense has also recently been caught in blatant lies concerning the use of drones in domestic airspace.
Manufacturers of drones, almost exclusively defense contractors, have spent $2.3 million so far on lobbying Congress to open up US airspace.
Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.