This year was full of many disturbing stories, like the one about Bloomberg's role-playing workshops being used to convince the public to accept police drones equipped with microphones. And another about politicians claiming police drones will help revitalize a downtown and create community connections.
None of that could have prepared me for what I discovered after looking into the FAA's drone program.
Last month an article in Nextgov caught my attention with the headline "Surveying the public in a city being used as a federal drone testing site." Those first three words "surveying the public, sounds an awful lot like surveilling the public.
Could that be what they are really saying? You be the judge.
The article claims the FAA plans to allow drones to be used for food deliveries like Uber Eats, blood and medical supplies and mentions police surveillance drones only once. Which seemed a little suspicious.
An article in the San Diego Tribune revealed that the FAA and 20 regional organizations are working together to convince residents to accept drones.
"San Diego was one of the regions chosen for the two-year test program because of the area’s unusually busy airspace, thriving technology industry and the presence of the international border with Mexico, city officials said."
“Since May, our partners have been busy evaluating possible drone uses that will benefit residents and businesses, as well as government agencies,” said John Valencia, executive director of the city’s Office of Homeland Security.
A 25-question online survey mentions privacy twice and police surveillance drones eight times if you include question #17 which asks if you are concerned about terrorism?
Nothing suspicious about that, right?
The city of San Diego also revealed that Qualcomm is working with the FAA to help with first responder drone communications.
The FAA's two-year program called the "UAS Integration Pilot Program" claims to be nothing more than a line of sight package delivery program that will benefit commerce and emergency management.
So what are the FAA's integration plans?
The FAA's plan is spelled out in their first sentence. "The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program is an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration."
Their integration plan, encourages law enforcement to partner with drone manufacturers to accelerate their usage.
A closer look at the FAA's "Programs, Partnerships and Opportunities" section revealed that San Diego's pilot drone program is ideally suited for police surveillance.
"The proposal focuses on border protection and package delivery of food, with a secondary focus on international commerce, Smart City/autonomous vehicle interoperability and surveillance."
And the Kansas Department of Transportation plans to use GeoFencing drones to spy on the public.
"Operations will use a range of technologies, such as detect and avoid, ADS-B, satellite communications and geo-fencing."
Another hint that this is really a national police drone surveillance program can be found by looking at Reno, Nevada's partnership.
The city of Reno claims they are testing a "nationwide scalable model for medical delivery operations." Last year, I warned everyone that DOT's like first responders claimed drones would only be used to respond to emergencies and that proved to be a lie.
The FAA's, UAS Integration Pilot Program has been carefully worded so as not to cause public outcry. They appear to be following the script laid out in Bloomberg's role-playing drone workshops that act as though police drones will only be used for emergency response and not surveillance.
The old adage if it looks like a duck (police drone), flies like a duck (drone) then it must be national police surveillance drone program, certainly appears to be the case here.