Monday, June 8, 2009

Drone Used for Drug Surveillance

One advantage of unmanned drones is their ability to stay aloft for long periods of time. This has turned out to be quite useful in the extended surveillance of drug traffickers. A Heron UAV has been deployed in drug interdiction on the coast of El Salvador reports a TIME article by Tim Padgett titled, "Using Drones in the Drug War." The Heron is capable of staying airborne for more than 20 hours at 15,000 feet, while it streams back high resolution real-time video.

Cost savings from the use of drones, as well as placing fewer drug agents' lives in jeopardy, may make funding an expansion of the drone fleet in the drug war irresistible to Congress. From a civil liberties perspective, the use of drones raises concerns as to whether they might also be deployed in ways that violate privacy laws or transgress other civil rights.

the Heron isn't without problems. The Turkish military complained last month about mishaps with the drones it had bought from IAI for counterterrorism surveillance, such as too often not responding to commands from their human operators on the ground. (IAI rejected the claims but has promised to "rectify" any problems.) U.S. Customs & Border Protection has used Predator drones in recent years to detect illegal immigration, but a series of crashes in recent years has clouded the program.

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