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UAV Helicopter Drones In The News

New FAA Part 107 has made it even easier to Fly Legally in the USA under 14 CFR Part 107. It's what we have all been waiting for.

FAA Automatically Grants  "blanket" COA'S - As of March 23, 2015, the FAA will automatically grant "blanket" COA's for flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator with a Section 333 exemption, provided the aircraft weighs less than 55 pounds, operations are conducted during daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions and within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports.


FAA Releases Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking! - Check out the provisions being proposed in the FAA’s Small UAS NPRM.


Department of Justice UAV Policy Guidance - Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)


FAA Grants UAV Permits for Agriculture & Real Estate Companies - The Associated Press reports that on Tuesday, the FAA issued exceptions to the commercial UAV ban, permitting the monitoring of crops and real estate use for aerial photographs of properties for sale. This is the first time permits have been granted to agriculture and real estate companies.


FAA Poised to Include Limitations on Hobbyist UAVs - The FAA is proposing to amend its regulations to adopt specific rules for the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS).


HSE Deploys the RDASS Q1000 UAV - HSE announces the deployment of the new RDASS Q1000 4 rotor electric UAV.  The RDASS Q1000 series is designed to meet the hi-tech needs of the user at a price to meet any city or county budget.


Judge Rules Against FAA in ‘Landmark’ UAV Challenge -  In a decision dated March 6, NTSB Judge Patrick Geraghty found that the FAA has no regulations that apply to model aircraft or that classify a model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft system.


Court Approves Use of Police UAVs - a North Dakota court has approved the use of UAV drones to help arrest citizens on US soil.


Arlington Police Dept Granted Permission to Fly UAVs by FAA -Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson announced that the Federal Aviation Administration has given the city permission to get the rotors turning on the police UAV drone project.


Supreme Court & The 4th Amendment - The US Supreme Court has held that individuals do not generally have Fourth Amendment rights with respect to aerial surveillance. Can the lower courts or State, county, city municipalities outlaw the use of UAV's for law enforcement?


Congress - UAS Privacy & Transparency Act - The proposed UAV Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2012 requires that police obtain warrants to use UAV drones for certain types of surveillance.


UAV FAA Regulations For more than five decades, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has compiled a proven track record of introducing new technology and aircraft safely into the National Airspace System (NAS).


FAA Fact Sheet – Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - For Immediate Release.


FAA Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA) - Before you can operate a UAV in National Airspace System (NAS) you must have a COA. The average time to issue an authorization for non-emergency operations is less than 60 days, 


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UAV  LAW ENFORCEMENT
& LETHAL WEAPONS


According to a June 2012 AP report, Deputy Chief Randy McDaniel of Montgomery County (Texas) Sheriff's Office ruled out mounting some less lethal options tear gas canisters and rubber bullets on that law enforcement agency newly-purchased $300,000 unmanned aircraft.

While it's highly unlikely that any police agency will be mounting any sort of weapon on their UAVs in the near future, police UAVs in our airspace are most definitely being equipped with video surveillance capabilities. Many civilians shudder at the concept, and consequently we may have a five-way, mid-air collision between the U.S. Congress, the courts, the Constitution, a cattle rustler, and cameras mounted on police UAVs.

Wait, what? a cattle rustler you ask? Read on, my friends. Recent, Relevant, Current Events Just a couple of weeks ago, North Dakota District Judge Joel Medd effectively approved the use of UAVs for police video surveillance when he denied Rodney Brossart's request to have charges against him dropped.

Brossart, you may recall, got into a 16-hour standoff with police after refusing to release six cows that had wandered onto his property. During the standoff, SWAT Commander Bill Macki accepted an offer by the Department of Homeland Security to use one of its video-camera-equipped Predator UAVs to ensure that an attempt to apprehend Brossart could safely be made. Brossart was then arrested and the six cows returned to their rightful owner  in what Brossart's lawyer contends is a case rife with Constitutional violations.

Brossart's lawyer argued that law enforcement's warrantless use of [an] unmanned military-like surveillance aircraft and outrageous governmental conduct warranted dismissal of the case, according to an article in U.S. News.

Meanwhile, as the Brossart case moves forward, there have been many recent moves on the Congressional side of things as well.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) recently reported that no fewer than five pieces of legislation addressing guidelines and/or oversight on law enforcement use of UAVs are up for consideration in Congress. The one getting the most attention in the press was proposed by media darling (or devil, depending on the cable news channel you watch) Rand Paul, but there are a host of others. 

With names like the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act and the No Armed Drones Act  and support from legislators on both sides of the political aisle  there is almost certainly going to be a vote on one (or more) of these bills addressing privacy concerns citizens have with regard to video cameras on police UAVs.

Guidelines and Oversight Do Exist While Congress contemplates passing new laws, we should note that the Federal Aviation Administration is the final arbiter of who can occupy American airspace, and what they're allowed to do in that airspace.

No matter what some critics may breathlessly declare, a police agency cant just buy a model airplane, hang a video camera under the fuselage, and start flying over people's back yards. Any party  police or private entity  must first obtain a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA, and subsequently comply with a variety of FAA regs governing the use of UAVs.

Furthermore, two organizations have already issued guidance on the matter  the abovementioned Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International as well as the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the IACP Aviation Committee released its approved guidelines for UAV use. You can read the entire document, chapter and verse, here, but allow me to highlight some of the important points related to the use of video cameras.

Regarding warrants, IACP said that where there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the UA will collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing and if the UA will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy, the agency will secure a search warrant prior to conducting the flight.
Regarding the retention of collected images, IACP stated, Unless required as evidence of a crime, as part of an on-going investigation, for training, or required by law, images captured by a UA should not be retained by the agency.

Regarding general interaction with the public, IACP recommends that agencies engage civil liberties advocates in their community early in the planning process. IACP also recommends taking steps to assure the community that it values the protections provided citizens by the U.S. Constitution. Further, that the agency will operate the aircraft in full compliance with the mandates of the Constitution, federal, state and local law governing search and seizure.

Meanwhile, AUVSI offers a Code of Conduct it hopes will contribute to safety and professionalism and will accelerate public confidence in these systems.

The organization specifically addresses UAV video surveillance of suspected criminal activities in several passages, stating, We will respect the privacy of individuals and We will respect the concerns of the public as they relate to unmanned aircraft operations.

In Addition to Video, Myriad Uses Regular readers of this space will recall that I recently wrote that this technology has nearly limitless potential, so before we proceed any further on the issues related to airborne video, let's consider some of the other uses for police UAVs Id outlined in that column.

Search and Rescue  Perhaps the most obvious use for a UAV in law enforcement is for search and rescue operations. In many cases, UAV assets can be easily carried in the trunk of a patrol vehicle, and in the hands of a skilled operator, they can be deployed and airborne before responders arrive at the scene. Traffic Investigations  One of the least obvious applications is the use of UAVs during the investigation of traffic collisions. Using electro-optical sensors with photogrammetry software, the scenes of fatal vehicle collisions can be cleared in a fraction of the usual time. HAZMAT Incidents  In the event of a hazardous material (HAZMAT) spill, atmospheric sensors can be attached to the vehicle and carried into the cloud or spill. Obtaining readings remotely keeps first responders from exposure to harmful substances. Narcotics Investigations  Whether to gather descriptions for a search warrant, or to locate a remotely-located marijuana plot, a UAV could be used by your narcotics unit.

If there is determined to be a reasonable expectation of privacy, a warrant must be issued, said Sprague, a 20-year law enforcement veteran at the municipal, state, and Federal levels.
If there is no reasonable expectation of privacy and something is occurring in plain view, no warrant is necessary. We simply call this police activity... patrol. Officers are driving around in cars, on bicycles, on horses, in full sized aircraft, and on foot looking at things. Patrolling.
Let's contemplate the case of the abovementioned cattleman from North Dakota. According to reports, here's what went down in June 2011.

Six cows wander onto Rodney Brossart's 3,000-acre property near Lakota • Brossart says he wont release the cows until he's paid for the feed theyd eaten • When police intervene, theyre chased away by Brossart's well-armed family • During the ensuing 16-hour standoff, SWAT operators observe the compound • DHS offers up its Predator B drone from nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base • Video footage from the UAV is beamed to a handheld device held by the Sheriff • The subjects are determined to have disarmed, and SWAT effects several arrests • Brossart is apparently TASERed during the incident, but no gunshots are fired • Brossart faces a handful of felony charges, which Judge Medd says still stand.

When in the above sequence of events can we agree that Brossart lost his reasonable expectation of privacy?

Probably when his three sons, allegedly armed with rifles, chased sheriff's deputies away... resulting in the issuance of an arrest warrant, agreed?

In arrest warrant situations, the arrest warrant itself provides the ability to search the premises for the defendant and would allow the use of the airborne-mounted video systems. As soon as the Brossart family's alleged criminal activities became a tactical situation, you have an exigent circumstance, probable cause, and no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Welcome to Air Support

It's impossible to know whether or not Brossart will ever see the inside of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC, but it seems clear to me that his attorney would like to take the case there. Regarding the issue of evidentiary admissibility  which I believe is the direction Brossart's attorney is going in the appeals process  Id strongly suggest you revisit Terry Dwyer's article on the legal considerations in the use of digital video in criminal cases.
Regarding the use of UAV video in a tactical or investigative situation, we dont have a lot of legal precedent at present  after all, one report on the Brossart case is entitled First Man Arrested With Drone Evidence Vows to Fight Case. Until we get a SCOTUS ruling on UAV video, we may consider looking to cases such as Florida v. Riley to guide us. Here's the Riley case, in short strokes.

Police in Florida get a tip that a man is growing pot in a greenhouse in his yard • The sheriff, unable to observe the grow op, uses a helicopter for a better look • Looking through a hole in the roof, the structure appears to contain pot plants • a warrant was obtained, the property raided, the man arrested, and the case tried • The man argued that the aerial search violated his reasonable expectation of privacy and although lower courts initially agreed, the Supreme Court ultimately supported this airborne police surveillance, stating that law enforcement flew at an altitude legally permissible to the public, and in the course of that, observed a greenhouse which was clearly visible to the naked eye

Most citizens think that because they are in their yard, on their property, the police cannot look at them. This is not true.

Inside your house when no probably cause exists, absolutely, citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy from a video camera mounted to a police UAV. Wandering around your backyard, after you've allegedly committed a handful of criminal activities?

Smile, you're probably on candid camera.

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Apple Orchards and UAV Technology
Association for AUVSI
AUV Used to Inspect Water Pipeline
Canadian Researchers Study Network to Send Drones to Those in Cardiac Arrest
Clemson University Enormous Potential Benefits From UAV Drones
Dept of Homeland Security (DHS) Memo on UAS
DOJ UAS Policy
DOT Reviewing FAA Authority To Require Drones To Be Registered
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Drones Are Going Mainstream
Drones Are Opportunity For Entrepreneurs
Drones Are The Future - Why Spend $1 Trillion on the F-35
Drone Helps Football Team Perfect Skills
Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems
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Experts See Promise in Domestic Drone Use
FEMA Austin TX - HSE Featured
First U.S. Farmer to Purchase A UAV for Agriculture Use
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Judge Rules Against FAA UAV Challenge
Military UAV Platforms
NASA Tests UAV Detect and Avoid System
Navy Launches UAV Drone From Submarine
Non-Profit Group Sues FAA Over UAV Flying Ban
NTSB Rules FAA Has Jurisdiction To Fine UAV Operators
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