How Drones Help Transparency Activists To See Things The Hungarian Government Wants To Hide

from the not-just-about-dealing-out-death dept

It's remarkable how quickly drones have become a familiar part of the modern world. Like most tools, they can be used for good and evil, but it tends to be the latter that is highlighted when it comes to drones. In the last few days, it was widely reported that President Trump has given the CIA power to launch drone strikes against suspected terrorists, in addition to being able to use the technology to locate them. Dealing death from the skies may be the most dramatic application of drones, but there are plenty of other, more benign, uses, even if they receive less attention. For example, activists in Hungary have been deploying them in a variety of innovative ways in order to bolster transparency and openness in a country where these are increasingly under threat. That's because the country's prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is a self-confessed believer in the "illiberal state," which Wikipedia describes as follows:

a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties. It is not an "open society".

The Hungarian organization Atlatszo.hu wants to reconnect citizens with that knowledge about those in power:

Established in 2011, atlatszo.hu -- "atlatszo" means transparent in Hungarian – produces investigative reports, accepts information from whistleblowers, files freedom of information requests, and commences freedom of information lawsuits in cases where its requests are refused.

Atlatszo.hu operates a Tor-based anonymous whistleblowing platform (Magyarleaks), a freedom of information request generator for the general public (Kimittud), a crowdsourced bribe tracker to report everyday corruption anonymously (Fizettem), and an independent blogging platform for other NGOs and independent media.

Atlatszo.hu uses a wide range of modern technologies in its work, and that also includes drones. Here's a post on Open Society Foundations from a few months back explaining why eyes in the sky are a powerful tool for taking a look at things governments would rather keep to themselves:

Through drone footage, we've revealed the hidden assets of government politicians and pro-government oligarchs, including castles acquired by companies tied to the son-in-law of Hungary's prime minister. Such concrete signs of personal enrichment -- which, in many cases, can only be filmed from the air -- give citizens a clear picture of the corruption and inequality that is all around them.

At the same time, drones are useful for throwing into relief the power of civil society. In 2014, we captured aerial footage of the protests against the government's internet tax.

Recording protests from the air is important because it allows more accurate estimates of crowd sizes to be made, which are also harder to challenge given the detailed footage that goes well beyond what is possible to gather on the ground. There's a video showing this and other aspects of Atlatszo.hu's work, mostly in Hungarian, but with English subtitles, that gives a good idea of the huge potential for using drones in this domain -- and of the pushback activists are already receiving from the deeply unhappy authorities as a result. As drones become ever-cheaper and ever-more powerful, that tension seems likely to increase.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 3:33pm

    And this why drones may be banned, it gives the citizens a power that governments like to reserve for themselves.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 3:36pm

    Oh, it's a trivial solution - if drones ever do become truly too effective, they'll just get banned wholesale by the high and mighty, end of.

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

  3. icon
    Bergman (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 3:44pm

    Re:

    If drones are outlawed, then only outlaws will have drones.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 3:53pm

    Re: Re:

    No way Rick. We will have artificial insects, that also happen to be able to record video.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 5:27pm

    the only reason

    the only reason drones are legal in the usa is because citizen owned drones provide cover for the government spy drones.

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 5:33pm

    Disposable drones

    Disposable drones, cheap drones, a drone that doesn't cost very much so it can be deployed and you don't run the risk of being caught trying the retrieve it once has collected the data/footage sought. Don't be seen deploying and controlling of course. How Not to Been Seen

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTQYEkIvN2M

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 6:59pm

    I bet these "activists" are funded by George Soros attempting another "color" revolution.

    Techdirt never gives the whole story.

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

  8. icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 8:00pm

    Re: I bet these "activists" are funded by George Soros attempting another "color" revolution.

    Apparently Soros runs half the world. Nobody opposing the various flavors of social and political far right ever had an idea without Soros. And all facts are invalidated because where the information came from, no matter how verifiable.

    Not sure also what is wrong with anti-authoritarians protesting and resisting self-admitted authoritarian governments.

    So the other half of the story is what "you bet". Which should always be given equal time to facts.

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

  9. icon
    Texpat (profile), 18 Mar 2017 @ 6:18am

    Re: Re: I bet these "activists" are funded by George Soros attempting another "color" revolution.

    It is an undeniable fact the current autocratic regime in Hungary is no friend of democratic ideals and classic liberalism. But then, neither is George Soros and his surrogate Open Society Foundations found in at least 70 different nations around the world.

    It would benefit Hungary, Soros' native state, and the world if both Viktor Orban and the OSF would disappear.

    I think it is great that Atlatszo.hu and its affiliates exist to give Orban government fits, but I really lament the fact Soros had to be the funding source. Soros is a megalomaniacal anarchist opposed to nation-states, borders, boundaries and is obsessed with taking down the USA. His anti-liberty dystopian worldview is not something he conceals. Soros to Newsweek in 2006:

    "The main obstacle to a stable and just world order is the United States."

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 9:56am

    "The main obstacle to a stable and just world order is the United States. This is a harsh — indeed, for me, painful — thing to say, but unfortunately I am convinced it is true. The United States continues to set the agenda for the world in spite of its loss of influence since 9/11, and the Bush administration is setting the wrong agenda . The Bush agenda is nationalistic: it emphasizes the use of force and ignores global problems whose solution requires international cooperation. The rest of the world dances to the tune the United States is playing, and if that continues too long we are in danger of destroying our civilization. Changing the attitude and policies of the United States remains my top priority."

    ...

    "We must recognize that as the dominant power in the world we have a special responsibility. In addition to protecting our national interests, we must take the leadership in protecting the common interests of humanity. I go into some detail as to what that entails."

    "Mankind’s power over nature has increased cumulatively while its ability to govern itself has not kept pace. There is no other country that can take the place of the United States in the foreseeable future. If the United States fails to provide the right kind of leadership our civilization may destroy itself. That is the unpleasant reality that confronts us."

    -- The Age of Fallibility: The Consequences of the War on Terror (2006)


    I think it is great that Atlatszo.hu and its affiliates exist to give Orban government fits, but I really lament the fact Soros had to be the funding source.

    WTF? Some anonymous person makes an accusation and you immediately accept it as factual. Exactly what I've come to expect from soros conspiracy fantasists.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 10:51am

    "it was widely reported that President Trump has given the CIA power to launch drone strikes against suspected terrorists, in addition to being able to use the technology to locate them."

    Oh, the CIA didn't have the ability to launch drone strikes against terrorists before? I did not know that. I guess all those articles talking about how drone strikes are getting people in Afghanistan and Pakistan to hate America must have been fake news.

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

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 11:44am

    Re:

    I will translate for the pedantry-afflicated:

    "President Trump has given the CIA increased autonomy to launch drone strikes against suspected terrorists, in addition to being able to use the technology to locate them"

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 1:13pm

    Re:

    Banned for average citizens, that is. The Googles and Amazons of the world will be exempted, along with government agencies.

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 2:08pm

    Re: Re:

    I think the mention of this in the article was slanted as it doesn't really add to anything, yet seeks to make a point. After 9/11 the CIA could do this, then Obama moved it to a joint CIA/Defense dept. operation. This new move will enable the defense dept. to continue to conduct strikes (which will probably increase) while allowing the CIA to conduct strikes covertly on high value targets.

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

  15. icon
    Richard (profile), 18 Mar 2017 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Re:

    President Trump has given the CIA increased autonomy to launch drone strikes

    Since when did the CIA need presidential authority to do anything?

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 7:14pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    On what basis do you make that claim? Because it sounds like you had predetermined that the CIA had full autonomy to launch drones strikes. Thanks to the Intercept's reporting we know that is (or was) not true.

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 7:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: I bet these "activists" are funded by George Soros attempting another "color" revolution.

    Many hours ago I posted a rebuttal to this that included the full context of that quote. The system said it would be reviewed and posted shortly. It has not.

    Making posting into a game of chance is a good way to discourage thoughtful posting.

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2017 @ 1:30am

    Re: I bet these "activists" are funded by George Soros attempting another "color" revolution.

    out_of_the_blue just can't stand it when due process is enforced.

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

  19. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 20 Mar 2017 @ 6:53am

    Re: Re: Re: I bet these "activists" are funded by George Soros attempting another "color" revolution.

    Is this a case of "Our activist billionaires are better than your activist billionaires?"

    Because the ones on the right get involved in international politics, too.

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


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