The scenario is in a dystopian future, where small, nearly undetectable unmanned flying machines are spying on the citizenry. These flying surveillance units hover overhead, peek into windows and have been known to carry a chemical weapons payload and can attack and kill.
According to some pundits, that future has arrived. While drone attacks rage in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, domestic use of drones in the United States and elsewhere is on the rise—sharply. The names of authorized drone users released by the Federal Aviation Administration reveals not only federal agencies such as Customs and Border Patrol and the FBI, but also features numerous local police agencies and colleges gracing the authorization list. At least one tribal entity is also included.
Apparently, no one is immune from drone surveillance. None other than the chairman of the intelligence oversight committee in the US Senate, Dianne Feinstein, recently reported seeing a little drone peering through her window.
In response to a spike in generalized and regrettably realistic paranoia, some US manufacturers are now offering personal drone protection systems. Gone are the days when hiring a bruiser with a bulge in his holster would be satisfactory insurance against unwanted intrusions. As electronic surveillance techniques continue to become more sophisticated—with drones now high on the list of potential threats—the spectre of drone surveillance has resulted in new technology to shield from these.
There are options, as you may have intuited. Domestic Drone Countermeasures will fight fire with fire, or more accurately, deploys electronic detection systems to pick up transmissions from incoming drones.
Domestic Drone Countermeasures offers a mesh system and detection grid. This is how it works: the basic Personal Drone Detection System comes with two detection sensor nodes as well as a Privacy Command Control Module. These three boxes create a network system that can identify and triangulate moving transmitters (ie, drones). You can key into the system existing local transmitters (like your smart phone) and program the system to ignore these signals.
If a signal then occurs which is not designated to be ignored, the Personal Drone Detection System will determine that signal to be hostile and will sound an alarm. According to the company, each sensor can detect an incoming drone within 50 feet in all directions.
Additional sensor nodes can be acquired to increase the size of the mesh network.
A company called DroneShield uses acoustic detection technology to determine the presence of drones. According to this company, “Each DroneShield contains a database of common drone acoustic signatures so false alarms are reduced.”
Sound detection is accomplished in the following manner: a unique sound pattern or algorithm is first identified, then broken into minute digital slices using a technology called analog to digital conversion (ADC). From that point, it is fairly simple to determine if the sound detected fits the signature of a drone. If so, an alarm is then sounded. According to reports, the system can detect an incoming drone a half a mile away.
DroneShield states: “Our clients include executives concerned about paparazzi and harassment, corporations worried about intellectual property loss, prisons detecting contraband smuggling, airports and heliports, and US military and homeland security departments. “
DroneShield offers customized attention and states that it will come to your location to do a needs assessment. DroneShield also offers maintenance and update services, as the drones may become even harder to detect. As discussed recently on the DroneShield website, the new Bebop drone may not be detectable through a prior signature (called Parrot AR). DroneShield promises it is already at work on the Bebop acoustic signature.
According to DroneShield founder John Franklin, eighteen countries have already placed orders for his Shield system.
In addition, a French company, Orelia, has thrown its hat into the ring and is also offering drone detection systems. Their Drone Detector also works by analyzing the acoustic signature.
It is not only the potential intrusion by governments that is driving the market for drone detection systems. According to recent news reports, drugs and weapons are being smuggled into prisons by civilian drones. The rich and famous are also now complaining that their privacy is being invaded by drone spying fans.
On the lighter side, Domino’s Pizza has used drones to deliver fresh, hot pizza to people dining in. And drones have also been used by some news reporters to capture a different “angle” on a breaking story. Civilian drones, once priced at about $1000 (camera included) are now available at a rock bottom price of $50.
Both Google and Facebook have acquired aerospace companies which are also involved in drone manufacturing. According to the press releases, these Internet giants are seeking to develop ways to use drones to bring the web to remote areas.
Or maybe they are simply cementing their relationships with the NSA. Both Google and Facebook have been mentioned in NSA spying scandals which have highlighted their accommodation of spying on Internet users.
The day is fast approaching when the old Spy vs. Spy paradigm may be replaced (or enhanced) with Drone vs. Drone. Those wishing simply to be left alone may end up barricading themselves behind an electronic net of detection and protection systems. Dystopian future? Looks like it is already here.
Janet C. Phelan, investigative journalist and human rights defender that has traveled pretty extensively over the Asian region, an author of a tell-all book EXILE, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook