"One of my constituents built a 9-foot flying wing and sends me pictures of my house when he flies over," Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ) said wryly in a Congressional hearing today on how to regulate drones when they are granted expanded access to American airspace in 2015. It was almost the last statement in the hearing--held by the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) before the House Science, Space and Technology oversight subcommittee on unmanned aerial systems (the committee's preferred terminology for drones)--and it captured a few important points about the current state of drone law, and, perhaps, where it's headed.
As Schweikert suggests, most Americans are not terribly fond of the idea of their neighbors flying cameras around and taking pictures of them in their backyards. The problem is that, right now, there is no explicit federal guidance prohibiting this. Some states, like Texas, are currently pursuing laws of their own to remedy this. But until then, according to testimony by Dr. Gerald Dillingham, civilian drones are governed by the same rules that apply to model aircraft--which is basically no rules at all.
The problem is that there isn't yet a clear guideline for privacy going forward. Dr. Dillingham, director of civil aviation issues in the Government Accountability Office, testified that while the Federal Aviation Administration has a clear safety mandate, it doesn't have one for privacy. So it would fall to Congress to decide which governmental body--the FAA or some other organization--should draw up privacy regulations. Congress could potentially legislate on those regulations, if, say, members think the rules aren't strict enough, but given Congress's record on privacy expect more lip service than action.
The next most pressing concern brought up in today's hearing was hacking. In December 2011, a stealthy U.S. RQ-170 spy drone crashed over Iran. Reportedly, this was the result of "GPS spoofing," a security-attack technique in which you bypass controls and interfere with the machine's internal GPS. While military encryption is supposed to protect against this, it's certainly not perfect. And even if it were, that type of encryption might not be viable for the commercial market, Dr. Edgar Wagoner, testifying on behalf of NASA, said.
These vulnerabilities will have to be addressed before the widespread introduction of commercial drones, because the possibility of easily hacked flying machines is not something anyone is excited about. Dillingham noted that creating a perfectly hack-proof system is impossible. That said, committee co-chairman Representative Dan Maffei specifically pointed out that it wasn't military but commercial aircraft hijacked on 9/11, so expect the House to try and legislate a hack-proof standard anyway.
Another major issue mentioned was drone autonomy. In 2010, a U.S. Navy drone lost contact with its controllers and proceeded to violate D.C. airspace before control could be regained. A drone is, in cases like this, supposed to either immediately plot a course to its home base or attempt to reestablish a connection with its controller. But in this case, it took a half-hour to re-establish contact, which was way too long. Ensuring there are protocols in place to prevent wayward drones was also part of the committee's mission. Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration is conducting a search for drone sites, and one of the reasons why is because officials want to find a way to safely and regularly test drones. Data from those tests will be delivered to the committee and could help shape safety regulations.
The hearing took place as part of the long, ongoing process to figure out how exactly unmanned aerial systems are going to fit into American airspace. Representative Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Representative Scott Peters (D-CA) both took some of their allotted time to campaign for their districts as commercial drone testing sites, and were positively giddy by the prospect of developing a lucrative drone economy. Dillingham expects that "the worldwide UAS market could be potentially worth $89 billion over the next decade." There's too much money to not have commercial drones.
A little tardy to the party, but we'll see how the Laws fall.
As a security professional, my biggest concern is the security of the remote control protocols. What is to stop a hacker from intercepting the signal and rerouting the UAV to attack someone?
DHS already conducted tests showing these UAV/UAS are infact vulernable to remote control and radar jamming exploits. Yet they are still being relased into our airspace?
Given all the government websites that have been hacked lately, what makes these any more secure? Could they even catch a hacker using one of these as a weapon or even detect the location? Unlikely.
It's a stiff deadline for FAA to meet and they're running out of time, I think this is a compromise of security, espescially if the signals aren't strongly encrypted, with poorly constructed transponders by incompetent manufacturers/developers with no hackibility tests at all, just standard crackable encryption and they call it 'secure'.
What if the people that are saying they are secure are just paid off to say that to meet deadline goals?
Please spread more awarness on this issue and read this article for more information about regulations, the time is drawing near where domestic drone licenses will be granted,and that's a thousand vulnerable-jammable target seeking 'missiles' in our airspace.
I think one thing in the mix that is not being addressed, is manned autonomous vehicles. Currently, you have to be a pilot to control an aircraft, but in the near future, the aircraft will be able to pilot itself.
I strongly dislike these articles that snippets are just outright not true. You can't compare a huge 30ft wingspan drone that carries bombs everyday to a foam airplane that usually cant carry a payload of over a few pounds. There certainly are already laws in place protecting peoples privacy so there shouldn't be much of an issue here. Why hover a so called "drone" outside someones window when you can simply look inside. Besides, these R/C planes are certainly not stealth but are usually more quite than an electric weed-wacker. It doesn't matter how you did something, it just matters that you did it. For example, if you took pictures of your neighbor intentionally with your r/c plane and "stalked" them, you would get in trouble because you took pictures of them without permission. Same as if you did it on the ground with your iPhone. You would still get into trouble but we aren't banning iPhones are we? This hobby has been around for years and years without an incident and now people are getting upset?