Could Drones Find Boston Terror Suspect?

Maybe, but They Could Find You Too


Could unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, catch Boston terror suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Industry head Michael Toscano seems to think so and his comments have sparked a new debate over the use of drones by law enforcement.

Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International told U.S. News and World Report:

Whether it is in response to a natural disaster or a tragedy like we saw in Boston, UAS can be quickly deployed to provide first responders with critical situational awareness in areas too dangerous or difficult for manned aircraft to reach.

While the association has an invested interest in seeing drone technology take off, Popular Science responds to Toscano and points out that while drones could be used for dangerous manhunts, so can helicopters:

Is he right? Well, he's not entirely wrong. Drones, like manned helicopters used by police and emergency responders, can hover, provide a great overall picture of action on the ground, and direct aid to where it's needed. The trick is that, right now, drones don't do that uniquely, which is what a sales pitch on their special capacity demands. Boston did in fact have a police helicopter flying overhead, and the problem of low fuel reportedly overheard on the police scanner is a problem that another helicopter could have solved just as easily. Drones aren't particularly special in disaster relief—yet.

Nevertheless, when it comes to law enforcement and surveillance of any stripe, there is always the chance that police could spy on citizens–privacy safeguards or no privacy safeguards. The New York Civil Liberties Union points to an instance in their 2006 report, Who's Watching: Video Camera Surveillance in New York City and the Need for Public Oversight:

A man and woman who shared an intimate moment on a dark and secluded rooftop in August 2004 learned later that they had been secretly watched by police officers charged with conducting surveillance of nearby protest rallies.

From a custom-built $9.8 million helicopter equipped with optical equipment capable of displaying a license plate 1,000 feet away, police officers tracked bicycle riders moving through the streets of the Lower East Side. 

Then, using the camera's night vision capability, one officer shifted the focus away from the protesters and recorded nearly four minutes of the couple's activities on the terrace of their Second Avenue apartment.

"When you watch the tape, it makes you feel kind of ill," said Jeffrey Rosner, 51, one of the two who were taped. "I had no idea they were filming me. Who would ever have an idea like that?"

While drone technology may be a useful tool during a manhunt, what happens when the manhunt is over? Can police use the technology to fight other crimes, like possession of marijuana or jaywalking? Criminal law professor Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles told Reason TV in Cops with Drones: Alameda Co., CA, Weighs Technology vs. Privacy:

Generally there is this real friction between technology and civil liberties and we haven't really figured out how to deal with it and frankly neither has the Supreme Court. Because we are developing much faster, technologies that can allow law enforcement and the government to invade our privacy. Just look around you, on the street corners you have cameras in the lights, you know have these drones that can go all around, everywhere you go the government can surveilnt you. And yet the laws written to deal with this go back to time of the framers of the Constitution. What did they know about drones?


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  1. If drones are cheaper, and can stay on station longer than a helicopter, than they have value in situations like this.

    1. Yeah, but you know eventually they’ll push to use them for standard law enforcement.

      1. What puzzles me is they didn’t use drones in Bladerunner. “Don’t Walk” signs, bicycle shorts, everything we see today but no drones.

        1. Since the invention of large outdoor HD screens, Times Square looks more like Blade Runner than Blade Runner did.

        2. The drones were humanoid.

          1. No, those were replicants. THX 1138 had cop drones, plus a hologram guy.

            1. The Nexus-6, sure. But what about the other models?

              1. Of the Nexus-6, Pris was my favorite.

      2. This.

        You can’t buy very expensive equipment then not use it. That’s why we have SWAT raids used for routine police work and the forever war.

      3. That argument doesn’t compute. If they have helicopters, and drones are cheaper, then why not migrate to drones?

        Is it the likely proliferation, due to the reduced expense, that you’re really griping about? If so, that’s a different argument than ” they’ll push to use them for standard law enforcement”.

  2. If there were one following the carjacked Mercedes with the “Coexist” sticker, a drone could have followed the younger brother when he ditched the vehicle, right?

    Still lost on how the cops lost this guy anyway, but I don’t know any more than what’s been on the radio.

    1. The cops are utterly incompetent. BPD is a joke, and that’s saying something since all cops are jokes.

      1. I got that impression too from reading the scanner transcripts here. And now they’re just overcompensating with the lockdown and people in swat gear.

        1. Yeah. The screwed the pooch. I hope this guy doesn’t kill anyone.

          1. It seems like they are just trying to keep him contained, rather than trying to take him down. He’s been on the move for almost 24 hours. Maybe the plan is to keep him moving, and eventually he’ll get tired and fuck up? Of course, eventually LEO is going to get tired too.

      2. At least they haven’t shot anyone yet. If this were in LA and they were looking for a young man driving a Merc SUV, at least three elderly Asian women driving SMART cars would be dead by now.

        1. They shot the elder Caucasian, possibly.

          1. That was the right guy.

            1. We don’t know yet. He could have been bullied, or suffering from Caucasian inferiority syndrome.

      3. How could they be a joke? That area churns out master’s degrees like Wisconsin churns butter. They should have the best police force liberally redistributed money can buy!

  3. I thought the drones were for making sure everyone was locked safely indoors.

  4. I have a whole regiment of 6-foot-tall wooden soldiers in my workshop that could do the trick.

  5. So now they are searching homes without warrant whether you let them in or not. Great.

    This country has become pathetically weak. The production thats been made over this is insane and only invites more attacks. Anyone who reads world news even in passing knows there are many more people killed and wounded in bombings virtually everyday all over the world.

    God how did we become such fuckin pussies.

    1. If the residents of Boston could have weapons, this guy would have substantially fewer places to hide.

      1. They can have weapons, just not handguns. If you have a terrorist lurking around, trying to move from yard to yard, wouldn’t a rifle be more beneficial than a handgun?

        1. Of course they can’t have one of those evil “assault weapons” either.

          But to address your question, I’d rather have a rifle in virtually any situation. That aside, if you’re holed up in your house, just about any gun would do. But that so many of them are denied the residents of Boston means lots of them are unarmed and completely defenseless.

          1. Because of the anti-gun culture, it probably hasn’t even crossed anyone’s mind to sit near a window and wait for a clean shot.

            1. Truthfully, right now would you want to be in a window in Boston, holding a long arm nearby? I’d be much more worried about the cops screaming “GUN! In the window!” than thinking I could actually drop the bastard. Hell, what was the case where they were shooting at some dude on the 2nd floor of an apartment building, and ended up ventilating the ground floor unit?

              Stay safe, you guys.

    2. Just wait until every bit of their evidence gets excluded. Hello professorship for Mr. Tsarnaev.

      Where will he serve his students better? Social work or religious studies?

      1. Sadly, that would only make the evidence found subsequent to the arrest inadmissible. Everything else would be.

      2. Molecular gastronomy, duh.

        1. Kind of limits the net cast for bringing more people into the cause, don’t it?

  6. The hunter-killers couldn’t even find John Connor.

    1. The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy, but these are new. They look human…sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot. I had to wait till he moved on you before I could zero him.

    2. They didn’t even fix that problem when they evolved into Cylons.

  7. Yeah, let’s talk about whether drones. But what evidence do we have that these two even exist? The FBI showed some blurry pictures, a few from the marathon, and one from a gas station, and said it’s these guys, after planting a few other identities out there first. You know what? I’ve been to a gas station too. The news said a cop was killed — how do we know that’s true? All we saw was indecipherable iPhone videos, all in portrait mode. Now the whole place has been “on lock down” (good little sheeples) with nobody but LEO outside, and yet the kid remains at large. Yeah, that makes sense. And really, Chechens? Credit where credit is due, that was a genius stroke: they’re both white AND muslim. Talk about covering your bases. But, you don’t think the uncle & aunt’s accents are a bit thick, for having been in the US for at least 10 years? I wonder how much they’re being paid for those performances. Find me one single instance of anyone who ever knew them claiming that they could do this. Nice touch, by the way, with the aunt, casting her and the kid as “crazy truthers.” And that, juxtaposed with the super-patriot uncle, and the threat-issuing father. There is no reason to believe anything about the entire story, except for the video actually showing the bombs going off at the finish line. That’s all. I know when I’m being played, and I’m being played right not. Just make no mistake, the only way we’ll ever see that kid is without a pulse.


    1. Dude. Your meds are supposed to be taken when you wake up . . .

      1. What, and introduce a foreign substance into my precious bodily fluids?

    2. 0x90=?


      1. ?

        Your name sounds foreign. Extremely foreign.

    3. What are your thoughts on our landing on the moon?

      1. Ask Kubrick. Just let me know if you need his email.

  8. Question: Supposing they could. Would the president be authorized to use one to assassinate him?

    And everyone thought that Ron Paul was a “wacko bird” for raising the question.

    1. Whose authorization do you think the president needs to get to order a drone strike?

      A good rule of thumb I would use is: Is it okay to use field artillery or a manned air attack? If yes, then yes for drone. If no, then no for drone too.

      I don’t see that as being okay in the USA, then again I am no presidential messiah either.

      Also, if he ordered that it would have to get through the chain to the trigger pullers. Nixon tried to order air strikes in Lebanon once, and the order was ignored (Dawson’s Field hijackings, according to National Geographic).

    2. ??

      Rand Paul raised the question and this isn’t the scenario he was talking about.

      This man is on the run, Paul’s scenario involved someone in a non-violent situation: “sitting in cafe, or peacefully in their home.”

      1. So?
        You think that if they had an armed drone that the government SHOULD be able to just assassinate this guy with it, instead of bothering to, like, give him a trial?

        He’s a SUSPECT. He hasn’t been proven guilty in a court of law.

        Unless he’s actually shooting at cops, right now, there’s no moral jusification for killing him with a drone.

  9. Remember how the Brazillian police accidentally shot some Brazillian guy in the subway right after the London bombings?
    It’s easy in these situations for people to overreact.

    I’m willing to believe the two suspects were in fact guilty of the crime. But even so, we have presumption of innocence and habeas corpus so that we don’t accidentally drone-assasinate an innocent US citizen just because someone thought he looked lik the guy in the security camera video.

    1. I thought that was London police?

      1. Oops, I mean London Police.

    2. As AA said, London police. And if by accidentally you meant, “empty the magazine into his head” then it was an accident. The cop meant to kill him—he thought Menzies was wearing a suicide vest—they just screwed up their target ID.

      I’ll be surprised if this kid gets captured alive. I’m thinking he got outside their perimeter and is on his way to somewhere else fast. That, or tarran was right and the guy’s bled out in some attic in Watertown. Blood trails aren’t that hard to spot though, are they?

      1. Well, that would be a horrible shame if the kid turns out to have been innocent. Or if they shoot some innocent person who looks similar to him, because they are fucking freaking out right now.

  10. Whether it is in response to a natural disaster or a tragedy like we saw in Boston, UAS can be quickly deployed to provide first responders with critical situational awareness in areas too dangerous or difficult for manned aircraft to reach.

    Drone salesman sells drones.

    This is my surprised face.

    1. Whether it is in response to a natural disaster or a tragedy like we saw in Boston,

      … people can be panicked into doing stupid dangerous shit that makes the tradgedy even worse.

  11. NYPD wne to the sisters apartment, and seized her computer.

    1. Okay, NOW this has gone too far!

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