There are currently 106 federal, state, and local agencies operating 207 drones in US skies. And the question being askled is, are there good enough safeguards on the rapidly proliferating use of drones in law enforcement?
Beyond the constitutional issues, there are matters having to do with how drones could be hijacked by terrorists, as well as their threat to civil aviation.
In June, Humphreys and his research team from the University of Texas at Austin's Radionavigation Laboratory conducted a demonstration for the Department of Homeland Security at the missile range at White Sands, N.M., in which they were able to seize the flight control of a sophisticated $80,000 Hornet Mini UAV rotorcraft as it hovered 50 feet off the ground.
They accomplished this by tricking its onboard navigation system to stop accepting data from the Global Positioning System satellite network. Instead, they gave the drone counterfeit commands from a ground transmitter half a mile away.
"Spoofing a GPS receiver on a (unmanned aerial vehicle) is just another way of hijacking a plane," Humphreys told Fox News.
The so called "hijacking" was achieved with barely $1,000 in equipment and four years of software development that left the device completely unaware that it had been redirected.
McCaul, a former federal prosecutor, said the drones not only could be hijacked, loaded with explosives and flown against a target, but they also pose a safety issue for other aircraft.
Government-approved drones are supposed to weigh less than 25 pounds, fly only in daylight within 400 feet of the ground, and stay five miles away from the nearest airport.
"Now is the time to ensure these vulnerabilities are mitigated to protect our aviation system as the use of unmanned aerial systems continues to grow," he said.
I believe that the widespread and indiscriminate use of drones is a threat to our right of privacy. There are literally no safeguards in place that would prevent the state from surveilling you for no reason at all. The use of drones should be carefully monitored and rare -- tracking suspects and the like, not blanket coverage that replaces police patrols.
"Unfortunately, DHS seems either disinterested or unprepared to step up to the plate to address the proliferation of unmanned aerial systems in U.S. airspace, the potential threats they pose to our national security and the concerns of our citizens of how drones flying over our cities will be used," McCaul said.
A DHS spokesman said the FAA bears responsibility for the rules surrounding the integration of drones into U.S. airspace, not DHS.
Drones could become a tool of oppression in the wrong hands. Better to set standards and practices now before there are thousands of them in the air.