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Drones to soar over US and Canada sooner than thought?

Published time: April 23, 2012 18:46
Edited time: August 03, 2012 04:30
MQ-8B Fire Scout drone helicopter (AFP Photo / US Navy)

MQ-8B Fire Scout drone helicopter (AFP Photo / US Navy)

Non-military agencies have been gearing up to get unmanned drones in the sky across America, and now it looks like those controversial aircraft will soon be heading north, as well.

Not only are surveillance drones expected to soar in droves across American airspace in the not-so-distant future, but now it has been confirmed that authorities in Canada have successfully followed through with test flights of the unmanned aircraft for their own use.

A spokesperson for CAE, Inc., which is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, has confirmed that a series of test flights have occurred in recent weeks as the country looks towards purchasing drones for domestic use. According to CAE’s vice president, Pietro D’Ulisse, the capabilities of the craft will be a great asset for law enforcement across Canada.

“Much like the use of simulation in training, the use of unmanned systems for a range of civil applications has the potential to enhance safety, increase efficiency, and save money. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Aeronautics, regulatory authorities, and potential customers as we demonstrate these capabilities,” D’Ulisse reports in a recent press release.

It has been revealed in recent months that the US Department of Homeland Security has been operating an arsenal of similar unmanned surveillance crafts to keep close watch on America’s border with Mexico. On the horizon, however, are plans to expand that program domestically from coast-to-coast, authorizing smaller jurisdictions to operate spy missions by themselves in their own airspace. As the US considers furthering plans that will put added fleets of surveillance drones under the command of local law enforcement departments, though, Canada is also embarking in endeavors that will essentially put all of North America under watch from above.

Perhaps it’s an exaggeration, but according to papers made available by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in recent days, the future of space age spying is already here.

While Canada is only just getting ready to put drones in its airspace, the EFF has learned through a Freedom of Information Act request that the US has already granted dozens of small-time agencies and institutions approval to work with unmanned crafts.

In addition to the already-established permission for the US Department of Homeland Security to send drones into America’s airspace, the EFF learned in recent days that over 50 other institutions ranging from police departments to colleges have been authorized to use drones by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Among those given permission to pursue drone operations include local law enforcement agencies in Arlington, Texas, Little Rock, Arkansas and Miami, Florida, as well as universities across the country in states such as Colorado, Connecticut and North Dakota.

Ryan Calo, a researcher at Stanford Law School, tells the Wall Street Journal that he expects more entities to seek approval as drones are retired from use overseas and they become more affordable for domestic use. Does that mean we should expect positive results, though, or concerns over privacy?

"The very same drone that was staking out a nest of insurgents and possibly shooting them could be deployed in New York for surveillance,” Calo tells the Journal.