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Forget privacy. Six drone test sites around U.S. solicited by feds for spying

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Federal officials have solicited proposals to create six drone test sites around the U.S. As if to allay concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration also posted online a draft plan for protecting people's privacy from the eyes in the sky. Under the plan, each test site would follow federal and state laws and make a privacy policy publicly available.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Many are concerned that a proliferation of drones will lead to a "surveillance society" in which Americans are monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by authorities.

The U.S. military has come to rely heavily on drones overseas. There has been a call to use drones in the U.S. for all kinds of tasks that are too dirty, dull or dangerous for manned aircraft. The biggest market for drones is expected to be state and local police departments.

A law was enacted last year to develop sites where civilian and military drones can be tested for integration into U.S. airspace which is currently limited to manned aircraft.

The law also requires that the FAA allow drones wide access to U.S. airspace by 2015. The agency is currently behind schedule and the deadline is not expected to be reached, according to the Transportation Department's inspector general.

The test sites will evaluate what requirements are needed to ensure the drones don't collide with planes or endanger people or property. Remotely controlled drones don't have a pilot who can see other aircraft the way an onboard plane or helicopter pilot can.

Another concern is that links between drones and their on-the-ground operators can be broken or hacked, causing the operator to lose control of the drone. Military drones use encrypted GPS signals for navigation. GPS signals used by civilian drones, however, don't have that protection.

"Our focus is on maintaining and improving the safety and efficiency of the world's largest aviation system," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "This research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies."

The sites are expected to boost the local economy of the communities where they are located. About two dozen government-industry partnerships have been formed over the past year to compete for the sites.

"Today's announcement by the FAA is an important milestone on the path toward unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft and creating thousands of American jobs," Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International says.

"States across the country have been eager to receive this FAA designation because they recognize the incredible economic and job creation potential it would bring with it," he said in a statement.

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