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Last year Congress asked the FAA to prepare the public for the onslaught of domestic drone use for the purposes of surreptitiously observing Americans beginning in 2015.

The FAA responded by issuing a screening information request (SIR) in order to develop six test sites within this country for the launching of domestic drones for surveillance purposes. The FAA included a provision soliciting public comment:

In conjunction with the UAS SIR release, the FAA will also publish a Request for Comments (RFC) in the Federal Register to solicit public input for the development of a privacy approach as it relates to the operation of the UAS Test Sites.

The Request for Comments was published at Regulations.gov on February 22d.

The total number of comments received as of 11:59 pm last night? Three.

Here is one of the comments:


I urge the FAA to take action to protect the important constitutional right to a reasonable expectation of privacy, including the right to be free from UAV surveillance of my home and daily life. Please do everything you can to protect this important constitutional right.  
Accordingly, the entire notion of personal privacy in this country is now dependent upon the views of exactly three American citizens.

And that is good, because as this editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, titled, "The Day When Drones Fill Domestic Skies" predicts:

The prospect that as many as 10,000 unmanned planes and helicopter-like surveillance devices could be launched into the nation's skies in the coming years might have once been regarded as a science-fiction scenario. But no more.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which sought the test-site proposals, has been working under a congressional directive to figure out how drones could be deployed safely above U.S. communities as soon as September, 2015.

For the rest of us who haven't bothered to make our views heard, Declan McCullagh of CNET news has provided some new details as to what the future holds:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has customized its Predator drones, originally built for overseas military operations, to carry out at-home surveillance tasks that have civil libertarians worried: identifying civilians carrying guns and tracking their cell phones, government documents show.
The documents provide more details about the surveillance capabilities of the department's unmanned Predator B drones, which are primarily used to patrol the United States' northern and southern borders, but have been pressed into service on behalf of a growing number of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, the Secret Service, the Texas Rangers, and local police.  
DHS was compelled by the Electronic Privacy Information Center[an organization you would do well to support] to release a "redacted" copy of its specifications for domestic Predator drones planned for use on American citizens. CNET obtained an unredacted copy of the same specifications that provided further detail:
Homeland Security's specifications for its drones, built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, say they "shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not," meaning carrying a shotgun or rifle. They also specify "signals interception" technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and "direction finding" technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.
Distilled to its essence, the drones are being taught to identify both you and where you are by your cell phone.  If you happen to be armed, well that is double-plus-bad.

When asked, the Department of Homeland Security declined to answer whether "direction identification" technology was being employed in its fleet of border patrol drones, but reassuringly stated that "signal interception" technology would never, never, never be used without DHS thinking about it really hard first:

Any potential deployment of such technology in the future would be implemented in full consideration of civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy interests and in a manner consistent with the law and long standing law enforcement practices.
So they've already decided its OK to find out exactly where you are--they just haven't decided how and when to listen in on what you're saying--yet.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the Department of Homeland Security will be the ultimate arbiter of the concerns expressed by the three individuals who have provided their comments, since the FAA has basically indicated it's not their job, man:

The Federal Aviation Administration, which is charged with overseeing drone implementation in the U.S., says its focus is “totally on safety,” not privacy worries. “We are concerned about how it’s being used only to the extent it would affect the safety of the operation,” says FAA spokesman Les Dorr.

*   *   *

The FAA last week began searching for six locations to test drones and is asking for input on privacy protections for these sites. While the agency acknowledges that privacy is an issue that must be addressed, it does not claim overall rule-making authority. “It’s unclear who’s responsible for privacy issues at this point and time,” says Gerald Dillingham, director of civil-aviation issues at the Government Accountability Office. “No one has stepped up to the plate.

Well, actually three people have.

If anyone else wishes to comment, here is how:

You may send comments identified by Docket No: FAA-2013-0061
using any of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for sending your
comments electronically.
     Mail: Send comments to Docket Operations, M-30; U.S.
Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Room
W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
     Hand Delivery or Courier: Take comments to Docket
Operations in Room W12-140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200
New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.,
Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
     Fax: Fax comments to Docket Operations at (202) 493-2251.

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