Trickle Down Technology

There are lots of technologies that we have in our daily lives that originated from a military application.  GPS, for instance, was developed by the military and then approved for use by civilians.  And that’s great – I use GPS all the time, and am thankful to have it.

Another example of this technology trickle-down is cellular phones – something that I’m sure most of us wouldn’t want to live without.  The HMMWV, on the other hand (Hummer for civilians) I could easily give up.  There was even a short-lived show on the History Channel about this stuff, “Tactical to Practical.”

Now, we’re seeing another technology trickle down from the military to civilians – but in an interesting way.  With props to BoingBoing, the Houston Police Department unveiled, though apparently unwillingly, a new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – also known as a drone.  Check out a great piece of reporting on the incident in the following video:

This same drone made a great splash when it debuted with the United States Marine Corps in Fallujah, Iraq:

The UAV is small and tough to see, said Marine officials. The contractors put the mufflers pointing up so that the enemy couldn’t track the aircraft by sound. The Marines operate the aircraft at a very low altitude.

The cameras — either for day or night — have enough definition to identify individuals and show if they are carrying weapons.

Houston Police representatives said that they are not “ruling anything out” about the potential applications for the drone.

While this video may be making its rounds now – it is actually from a report done in 2007.  I haven’t been able to find any information to follow up on the report, and can’t confirm whether or not the Houston Police Department is actively using these drones or not.

Like this week’s earlier post about the threat of cyber espionage, items like this make it easier to simply adjust your actions on the assumption that you are always being watched.  This pains me, to be sure, but I suspect that it is much closer to the reality than not.

As we continue to see the expanded use of military technologies in civilian settings, and as our global military engagements continue, America will be faced with some very tough issues about what is acceptable domestically and what is not.

My only hope is that these issues are discussed openly, in public, and with full disclosure about their applications and intended uses.  There’s nothing wrong with employing technology to fight crime and serve the public good, but let’s remember Kyllo v. US,

Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment“search,” and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.

For the record, infrared cameras are readily available for the ScanEagle mentioned in the video.

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