Letter to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requesting that the drone registry be made public

I haven’t been able to blog much in the past few months, although I hope to put out a post on mobbing and television technologies later this week. In the interim, what follows is the draft of a letter I’ll be sending the FAA to request information on drone owners and to assert that drone operator and ownership information should be available to the public because of the near complete lack of regulation affecting drones in combination with the inability to track and identify them.

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[Salutation]

I request information about registered drones and drone operators in the Seattle zip code [xxxxx]. Because of the apparent desire of the neighborhood watch and real estate speculators in my neighborhood to turn over rental homes, I have experienced cyber-stalking and harassment in my home for more than three years. Over time, in great measure because of the mobility of the harassment, which follows me in vehicles and on bicycle regardless of whether I have a cell phone with me, I have concluded that a drone is almost certainly involved.

Before the great increase in drone sales, I twice saw drones on my short street, one time hovering across the street from my home and another time over the spot where I begin my bike rides. And now that I’m making a habit of looking up at the sky at night, most nights I see a stationary object that must be a drone hovering just south of the front windows of my home overlooking the northeast shore of Lake Washington.

Current drone laws do not protect the public. In fact, these laws have the effect of shielding those who use drones in the commission of crimes. If a drone is not seen, if the drone is not obviously the source of the attack, or if the victim of a crime that involves a drone is not fortunate enough to have the drone fall at her feet, the victim of a drone crime has no recourse and may not even recognize the source of the attack.

To at least allow the public the opportunity to make an inquiry into the potential improper use of a drone, the drone registry should be made public. The reasons to allow public searching of the drone registry include the following:

  • “Hobbyist” drones may be modified and used to commit crimes.
  • Drones that are within sight of members of the public and not obviously violating the law may, nevertheless, be used in crimes. Their attacks may not be visible. Hacking is not visible. Harassment from a drone using a parabolic loudspeaker is not visible and may not even be comprehended as an attack from a drone by its victim.
  • Crimes involving drones are novel and, for that reason, the possible involvement of a drone may not be considered by police. This is likely to ensure that drone crimes are neither investigated nor prosecuted.
  • Businesses in which the use of drones is increasing, for example, real estate and home building, use these “commercial” drones in residential neighborhoods, even if they are used for legal business purposes.
  • The lack of transponders makes it impossible to track drones.
  • The lack of drone radar makes it difficult to detect the presence of a drone.
  • The lack of the requirement to file flight plans makes it impossible to trace them.
  • A drone provides an easy way to abstract the crime away from the criminals.
  • Drones are already being used to stalk people in the United States. Drones are probably the ultimate tool for the control stalker.
  • Drones provide an attractive means to war against neighbors. Hate groups have shown themselves to be early adopters of technology and may already be using drones for the God’s eye view they provide. Groups that shame or otherwise harass people out of their homes would probably also be quick to use drone technology to have an unmatched aerial advantage over their victims. Drones are war machines.
  • Properly equipped, drones are becoming low-flying satellites, WiFi extenders, and hacking platforms complete with IMSI catchers to intercept phone calls. Mobility allows the techniques and technologies of the cyber-bully to scale to the physical world. Drones are becoming part of the landscape of digital crime.

Drones have great versatility and are quickly surpassing the limits of radio control. GSM network-connected drones as well as solar-powered drones are in development. Drones can function as private communications satellites, mobile bases for network intrusions, and illegal surveillance and harassment. Certain classes of drones should be prohibited from being equipped with certain technologies. For example, drones that do not have a malevolent mission should not be modified to carry IMSI catchers or directional speakers unless there is good reason for an exemption to be made and the drone operates in an isolated area. Without transponders or radar to detect this mobile platform, the public should at least have access to the records of the private individuals and entities who are using them.

A New York tenants’ association told me they are seeing cyber-defamation used to force tenants from their homes. I recently came across the article, “The private investigator who spies using drones” (http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150318-i-use-a-drone-to-spy-on-people), about the Wright Group, an Anaheim, California private investigator who recruits “gamers”—the “geeks” she finds out of high schools and colleges—to operate the drones they use for surveillance in cases of suspected insurance fraud. This is clearly a case of the domestic use of drones by private entities to stalk private individuals. And based on my experiences in Seattle, I have concluded that real estate speculators are using drones with directional sound—essentially long-range acoustic devices (LRADs)—to run off the renters. Speaker technologies have evolved in novel ways alongside drone and communications technologies. As Chris Wright’s comments about flying at a height that will not permit the sound of the drone to be heard on the ground demonstrate, drone operators who use drones in surveillance are acutely aware of the reach of sound.

I would appreciate your kind response to this letter. I would be more than happy to talk at length with any investigator and would be grateful if you would pass this letter on to investigators for review. Drone owners and operators who allow their drones to be used to stalk people should, at minimum, receive heavy fines. In a case like mine that has gone on for more than three years—dating back to before the introduction of the drone registry—prison time is appropriate.

Thank you for your assistance.

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