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Drone Industry Boosters Pilot Controversial Local Growth Plan

Evening Edition

Above: When it comes to the controversial unmanned aircraft known as drones, business is booming. And that could mean scores of new jobs for San Diego. But privacy defenders say that courting the drone industry could cost us our civil liberties. KPBS Science and Technology reporter David Wagner spoke with both aides of the local drone debate for a look at San Diego's pilot-free future.

Aired 4/2/13 on KPBS News.

When it comes to the controversial unmanned aircraft known as drones, business is booming. That could mean scores of new jobs for San Diego, but privacy defenders say courting the drone industry could cost us our civil liberties.

When it comes to the controversial unmanned aircraft known as drones, business is booming. That could mean scores of new jobs for San Diego, but privacy defenders say courting the drone industry could cost us our civil liberties.

Imagining swarms of drones hovering over most of Southern California makes a lot of residents uneasy, but that's exactly what Sean Barr of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation hopes to see.

Barr has been working with a coalition of local defense industry advocates to brand San Diego as the drone capital of the world. To ensure that drone makers put down stakes in San Diego, Barr and his allies are trying to convince the FAA to base a lucrative drone test site here. The range they're envisioning would be expansive.

"It extends from the China Lake Edwards Air Force Base area West to the ocean, South to the Mexican border, and East to the Arizona border," said Barr, Vice President of Economic Development for the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

U.S. Marines

A coalition of local defense industry advocates hope to brand San Diego as the drone capital of the world.

When people like Dave Patterson of San Diego Veterans for Peace hear about Barr's plans, they don't picture a new economic golden age. They foresee an Orwellian police state.

Considering the proposed test site, Patterson wondered, "If they're gonna fly 10,000 drones around Southern California, what are they going to do with all that surveillance information?"

Bearing these concerns in mind, Barr and his allies remain focused on securing jobs for San Diego. Similar drone industry development efforts have been hatched in Nevada. And in Oklahoma, North Dakota, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts ... the FAA has received more than 50 test range proposals since February.

But Barr thinks San Diego can beat the competition. He estimates that about 7,000 local jobs are already dedicated to drones. San Diego also boasts ideal weather for year-round flight testing and a large military presence. With law enforcement, scientists, and farmers all coveting this technology, Barr thinks San Diego's drone economy is poised to double within this decade, saying, "There is an opportunity for it to grow significantly."

Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., also sees that opportunity. His district relies on jobs tied to two of the world's biggest drone developers — Northrop Grumman and General Atomics. "Everybody is going to be looking to you to see what's the next thing," Hunter told a crowd of Northrop Grumman employees during a recent visit to the company's Rancho Bernardo facilities.

David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, is certainly looking out for the next thing in drone technology. But he's troubled by what he's seeing. He argues that drones aren't properly regulated yet, threatening our privacy, civil liberties, and even our lives.

"We have very serious concerns about the government targeting American citizens for killing far from the battlefield without any form of due process at all," Loy said.

Loy could be alluding to a 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a suspected al-Qaeda recruiter who also happened to be an American citizen. The ACLU cautions that these targeted killings, reportedly responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths in the Middle East, set a dangerous precedent.

Even local drone industry boosters like Hunter worry about this technology, saying that lawmakers urgently need to discuss the legal limits of drone use.

"Part of being American is being able to do what you want to do without people looking at you or questioning you," he said. "Yes, it's going to be good for jobs. It could be steps forward in the way we handle wildfires and the way we have police chases. But the downsides when it comes to privacy are fairly great."

San Diego Veterans for Peace have been protesting outside a General Atomics facility in Poway every week for the past seven months. "Our fourth and fifth amendment rights are going to go up in a cloud of drones, if we're not careful," warned Patterson.

Despite these concerns, Barr's economic development coalition says drone jobs are coming to the U.S. no matter what, and San Diego should be the region to reap the economic rewards. Loy, however, thinks that focusing on where drones are made is beside the point. "Wherever the drones are manufactured," he said, "the issue is how are they being used."

Comments

Avatar for user 'dialyn'

dialyn | April 2, 2013 at 7:35 a.m. ― 1 year ago

Funny people are worried about their privacy but have no concerns about the environmental impact of these things buzzing constantly in the air. When all the birds and wildlife are gone, we are next. Does anyone get that?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 2, 2013 at 10:01 a.m. ― 1 year ago

Dailynn, yes that would be ANOTHER concern. Good you pointed it out. It's just that the privacy issue is the more obvious.

Privacy advocates together with environmentalists--and anyone who gives a darn about the Constitution should get together to oppose this Big Business-DOD allaince.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | April 2, 2013 at 11:36 a.m. ― 1 year ago

Drones cannot be allowed. They surely will be mis-used. Initially portrayed for our "safety", the use will be expanded. Privacy rights WILL be violated. If anyone really trusts the government 100%, I consider them fools. Government abuse of powers is rampant throughout the country. There is a saying that any safety extended, takes away some form of freedom.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 2, 2013 at 12:44 p.m. ― 1 year ago

I am extremely concerned about this, and, like the posters above, feel this is a huge red flag on both the privacy and environmental fronts.

Although I disagree with Rand Paul's politics most of the time, I did agree with the filibuster he did both because this issue is important and because he actually did a filibuster the way it was intended - by speaking nonstop. I think it's wrong that we allow congress people today to "filibuster" literally while they out on vacation somewhere and away from Congress, but that's out of the scope of this article.

In addition to being concerned about privacy rights and the environment regarding the use of drones, I am also concerned that private business groups are already salivated at this and seeing dollar signs.

Not only are we likely to have unconstitutional government intrusion of our privacy and environmental degradation from this, but we will also see over-inflated use of these as people getting rich from the production slip politicians some "incentives" to keep coming up with more reasons to build more.

It's dangerous.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 2, 2013 at 12:51 p.m. ― 1 year ago

"Barr has been working with a coalition of local defense industry advocates to brand San Diego as the drone capital of the world"

'Enron By The Sea' not good enough for you, Mr. Barr?

Now you want to ensure San Diego soild our reputation even further?

That will really get the tourists to San Diego, won't it?

"Hey honey, how about this year for our vacation we pack up the kids and go to the "drone capital of the world".

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 2, 2013 at 12:52 p.m. ― 1 year ago

"Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., also sees that opportunity"

When has this inept hack NOT seen an opportunity to profit from militaria-related issues.

A good benchmark for knowing if something is good for our community or not is looking at what this idiot is in favor of - and doing the complete opposite.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | April 2, 2013 at 1:17 p.m. ― 1 year ago

Hunter and Barr are only profit motivated. Security, safety, and the Constitution are of no concern.

But privacy is long gone with the government scanning phone calls, emails, and able to read the book you're holding in real-time from a spy satellite.

The bigger concern now is that Obama is ready and willing to use drones to execute any citizen at any time without due process.

This is certainly a new America.

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Avatar for user 'HoneyComb'

HoneyComb | April 2, 2013 at 1:38 p.m. ― 1 year ago

Forget about all the bad things you could do with one of these planes and imagine for a minute some of the good things. There are agricultural UAV's operating in California as we speak. http://www.thecalifornian.com/article/20130330/NEWS01/303300017 HoneyComb is working to give farmers better information about their fields and crops so that they can use less fertilizer, fewer pesticides and pump less water. This means less spray on our food and less farm runoff in our rivers. Farmers make more money by reducing overhead and waste while we get better food. If that wasn't good enough there are well paid jobs operating these UAV's and a host of other positive environmental impacts from precision farming.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | April 2, 2013 at 2:18 p.m. ― 1 year ago

There have been drones over the area for quite a while now, lots of video ( live) from them in ku band, mostly test and border surveillance

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | April 2, 2013 at 2:37 p.m. ― 1 year ago

HoneyComb,

No doubt there are lots of very beneficial uses for civilian drones. I am all for those, but the problem is the US government. But how do you keep them out of the equation?

We need to keep pushing to reduce tax rates as money is the only language spoken in Washington.

Mmikey,

Do you know of sites with live drone feeds? If so, please share them with us. I think we would all find it very educational.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | April 2, 2013 at 3 p.m. ― 1 year ago

Mmikey that is interesting, do you have some place where I can read how to pick up these signals? Not specific drones but the type of signals, about ku band etc.

Thank you

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Avatar for user 'marasmom'

marasmom | April 3, 2013 at 6:26 a.m. ― 1 year ago

National Anti-Drone Days of Action launch here in San Diego, "drone capital USA", THURSDAY at 3p at the General Atomics Plant in Poway, continue through Sunday: www.sdcpj.org

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | April 4, 2013 at 8:24 a.m. ― 1 year ago

JeanMarc

I've not looked into it for civ. use, I use a ROVER IV DRONE RECEIVER system from military surplus market.

but ku band receivers are not that rare.

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Avatar for user 'johnqpublic'

johnqpublic | April 5, 2013 at 8:25 p.m. ― 1 year ago

Don't be afraid of UAVs (drones), rather keep up on what is happening with uavs. Join UAV Watch (forum): http://www.uavwatch.net

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