Mesa County Police Have Been Using Drones For Years, Still Coming Up With Rules On Use

from the spy-games dept

The march towards drones becoming a common tool for domestic law enforcement agencies seems inevitable and some people aren't happy about it. We've already covered the backlash against one artist who satarized New York City's drone program. San Diego, for their part, valiantly refused to honor an FOIA request on their domestic UAV program because they determined on their own that there wouldn't be a public benefit to the disclosure. MuckRock thought that was a dodge not afforded San Diego under FOIA rules, but San Diego again declined to say anything at all about the program.

SUAV Falken
"Sorry, citizen, but Detective Iron Death-Spy is very, very shy."
Image source: CC BY 2.0

But one thing that has generally been accepted is that law enforcement agencies were required to operate these drones under very strict guidelines and within very strict geographic boundaries. It would appear, for Mesa County, Colorado at least, that may not be universally true. The EFF's Drone Census project has uncovered that Mesa County has two UAVs and can operate them without many of the restrictions in place elsewhere.

The MCSO must abide by standard FAA restrictions on domestic UAV flights, which cap flights to below 400 feet and preclude night flights or operating over "populated areas, heavily trafficked roads, or an open-air assembly of people." But MCSO's drone authorization includes no geographic restrictions: effectively, the agency can fly its UAVs anywhere in Mesa County. This freedom has allowed the agency to log dozens of operational missions since fall 2010. MCSO flight logs indicate that its UAV team has logged more than 160 flight hours on its drones since January 2011.
So, whereas other UAV programs are restricted to flying over areas where they could chiefly assist in locating missing people in difficult to surveil areas, Mesa County can fly them anywhere within their jurisdiction without any limitations beyond the somewhat vague-sounding "populated areas, heavily trafficked roads" or the open air above a large assembly of people. That can leave a great deal of sky to buzz around with less of the oversight I think is desperately needed in programs like this.

Now, just to be clear, these drones do not carry arms. They are used for imaging. Then again, as the creep continues, the rules keep shifting towards greater use and application, so it wouldn't be fair to slam anyone concerned that someday we may indeed see armed UAVs over our skies. Equally worrying is this:
MCSO has been using drones operationally for two years, but the department has no written drone policy outlining the uses for which its officers may deploy UAVs. Ms. Barnes writes that MCSO is "currently in the process of drafting a written policy for the use of our unmanned aircraft."
Well, that's just peaches. Military-style technology deployed domestically without any official policy for its use. I feel so warm and fuzzy inside.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 3:30am

    It would seem to me that America gave up Freedom when they decided they needed Security. As it is wisely note, those who give up Freedom to acquire Security deserve neither. And now people are waking up to the false Security these measures are actually providing. Unfortunately it is too late to simply trash the surveillance efforts, the Government has grown accustomed to using it against its own Citizens. This will not be stopped by democratic means.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 4:21am

    Re:

    and the bloody revolution will be postponed indefinitely until we are all starving.. effectively not arriving until its already too late.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Willy, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 4:26am

    I'm feeling oppressed already. The future looks dim. Low wages, long hours and drones buzzing overhead. Oh joy...

     

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  4.  
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    Mesonoxian Eve (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 4:30am

    "I feel so warm and fuzzy inside."
    Yes, we can see that, as your images are freely available on the hacked PD's computer.

    Nice cat.

    But put some clothes on already. Yeesh.

    /fun time with Tim

    If the public's truly upset over these drones, why are they still in the air?

     

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  5.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 4:31am

    Re:

    "Nice cat."

    Nothing could have made me rest easier in knowing you couldn't see me than this statement. Cats? Shit, why not just try to keep Cthulu around as a pet? He's slightly less evil and twice as interesting....

     

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  6.  
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    Ninja (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 4:46am

    Re: Re:

    Seems so.

     

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  7.  
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    Spike (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 4:49am

    Doing the math

    Did anyone else do the math on that "160 hours of flight time since January 2011"? Two drones, times two years, that's 40 hours per year per drone, or less than 1 hour per week. Given what these things cost, you'd expect they'd be in the air as much as possible. Of course, it could just be 160 hours they are willing to fess up to.....

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Michael, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 4:50am

    Re:

    "If the public's truly upset over these drones, why are they still in the air?"

    1) The law enforcement agencies keep ignoring FOIA requests on their use
    2) Law enforcement seems to not really care about public opinion
    3) The patriot act seems to make law enforcement think that public opinion is unimportant

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 4:54am

    "Mesa County has two UAVs and can operate them without many of the restrictions in place elsewhere. "


    Is this part of the Black Mesa Security apparatus?

     

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  10.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 4:59am

    Re: Re:

    The revolution will only happen when the masses run out of pointless reality TV shows and talentless celebrities.

     

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  11.  
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    The Real Michael, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 5:10am

    Now here's my question: How much crime has been thwarted by the drone? I'm guessing zero. Its only possible use must be to surveillance persons/areas which the police have taken interest in.

    "Well, that's just peaches. Military-style technology deployed domestically without any official policy for its use. I feel so warm and fuzzy inside."

    While the government has been beefing up law enforcement with military-style tools and weaponry, they've been working to disarm the public. The media is using the tragedy in Newtown to further their anti-gun agenda. Every single kind of gun can kill, so the only possible reason they're singling out semi-automatic weaponry is because they want to give law enforcement/military a tactical advantage against the citizenry.

    People better realize what's really going on -- that is if they want to keep their freedoms.

     

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  12.  
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    John Doe, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 5:16am

    Uh oh....

    I use to just be on the look out for black SUVs and helicopters, now I have to watch for drones too?

     

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  13.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 5:32am

    Re: Uh oh....

    Don't moon the bastard, unless you can outrun scud missiles.

     

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  14.  
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    Clint Fix (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 6:11am

    Desert

    While I don't at all agree that drones should be used domestically, having grown up in Mesa County, I might have a good guess as to why they use them. Outside of Grand Junction and Fruita, there is a lot of open desert space where a lot of drug related activity takes place. The area has a pretty big meth and a growing heroine problem and they're probably working to stop some of it.

     

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  15.  
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    Richard (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 6:22am

    Countermeasures

    Countermeasures are possible...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-PBfbDetNo

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 6:36am

    We should crowd-fund a small, easy to use, portable, handheld surface to air missile launcher to combat these drones.

     

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  17.  
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    Jardinero1, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 6:40am

    There is not a lot of difference between a drone and a civilian airplane or helicopter with a peace officer on board, except that the drone is an order of magnitude cheaper to operate.

     

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  18.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 6:41am

    Re:

    Nice idea, that man. Is it covered by the 2nd amendment, though?

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 7:29am

    Re: Re: Re:

    That will never happen since you can take any person off the street and make them a "star"

     

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  20.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 7:37am

    US EULA: By accepting these terms of citizenship...

    ...you give up all rights to due process, constitutional protections, or even common decency. You agree that you have no rights, and we have the right to do whatever the fuck we want and you'll fucking like it, bitchez.

    i'm still trying to get my head around *how* breaking and entering your 'castle' (sic), planting bugs and/or video cameras is NOT 'unreasonable search and seizure' ? ? ?

    the supposed 'reasoning' (which was essentially: 'Well, we let law enforcement (sic) do whatever the fuck they want to do, shut up, citizen.'), is that it isn't 'obtrusive', blah blah blah.
    r u fucking kidding me ? ? ?

    so, when -in the very near future- we have all but invisible nano-bugs and nano-bots, they can go EVERYWHERE and record EVERYTHING, 'cause -you know- you cain't hardly not see'em anyways...
    r u fucking kidding me ? ? ?

    'law enforcement' are THE biggest violators of 'the law' (what a fucking joke) and the constitution...
    game over, kampers

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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  21.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 7:51am

    Now, just to be clear, these drones do not carry arms.

    Aww how cute. It will just be a matter of time until they carry tear gas, and "non-lethal" stun guns.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 8:04am

    Re: Desert

    So, the people we elect are using the latest technology to stop criminals. OMG! What about my rights? They could spy on me and see me in my backyard cutting the grass. The horror!

     

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  23.  
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    slick8086, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 8:20am

    I don't really get what the deal is. Why are people so worked up about so called "drones." These are just jumped up remote controlled airplanes. Police have actual helicopters and airplanes and no one bitches about those.

    I build R/C planes as a hobby and have been getting into the aerial photography part of it. An R/C plane can't do more than a real plane or helicopter when it comes to surveillance, it can do considerably less.

     

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  24.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 8:27am

    Re:

    These were designed to be used in war. Whenever you take something that was designed for war and use it at home it is a slippery slope. Next thing ya know they will be using LRAD here at ... wait what? Oh. At least we dont see armored... what? Those too? Well at least we dont see guards with automatic weapons and flack jackets... really?

    Where does it end?

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    slick8086, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 8:49am

    Re: Re:

    >These were designed to be used in war.

    Actually, no they weren't. They were designed as toys and adapted for war. R/C planes were around for a long time before they began being used in military applications. The fact is for about $500 ANYONE can make pretty nice aerial photography platform with all kinds of autonomous automation.

    Just Google DIY drones.

     

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  26.  
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    Wally (profile), Dec 19th, 2012 @ 9:30am

    Re:

    They can use them a lot better than helicopters when chasing a suspect. Also, they use them for catching people speeding.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 9:36am

    Vague Sounding...

    "somewhat vague-sounding "populated areas, heavily trafficked roads" or the open air above a large assembly of people."

    The FAA definition of these items are VERY VERY clear, just ask any pilot... But I do guess it did they right CYA by saying "Vague-Sounding."

    To be honest if these are the areas that they are not allowed to operate, then the drones are of little use other than possibly search and rescue, and looking for pot fields...

     

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  28.  
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    DCX2, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 10:42am

    Re: Now, just to be clear, these drones do not carry arms.

    Drones with tazers. Call them "Dazers".

     

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  29.  
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    DCX2, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 10:43am

    Re: Vague Sounding...

    looking for pot fields

    Mesa County is in Colorado, so the drones aren't very good for this anymore...

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 11:54am

    That means we can shoot them down.

     

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  31.  
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    Jake, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 12:33pm

    Not As Bad As It Sounds?

    How much does this really change as far as the law is concerned? Police departments have been using manned aircraft for literally decades; wouldn't there already be legal precedents determining how and when aerial surveillance footage can be taken and what it can be used for?

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2012 @ 10:18pm

    Re:

    and three times as fun to shoot at if nothing else is going on while your hunting.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2012 @ 1:01am

    If the drones are so harmless then why all the secrecy?

     

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  34.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Dec 20th, 2012 @ 11:10am

    Drones

    I really don't get all the hand-wringing over drones, either domestically, or militarily overseas.

    A drone can't do anything that a piloted can't do. We have police helicopters flying over populated areas, over freeways clogged with traffic, and over open-air stadiums all the time. Why is it any different for a drone to do these things?

    Same with the military. A drone attack on the enemy is no different than the same attack flown by a person in a fighter jet. It's just as accurate (or inaccurate, as the case may be) and the weaponry is the same. So why such outrage when it's a drone that's used?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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