from the hard-to-see-license-plate dept.
Drones could someday have a sort of invisible license plate that allows local authorities to determine who the unmanned aerial system (UAS) belongs too. Pitched by Chinese drone manufacturer DJI, the concept for an electronic identification system for small drones is just one of many ideas as the Federal Aviation Administration looks into potential ways of identifying drone users.
DJI suggests drones should use the radio equipment already on board most systems to transmit a unique registration number. That number would identify the drone owner to law enforcement in the event of a complaint or flight through a restricted area. Areas with restricted drone flight, such as airports, could use radio equipment to read that number and report the ID number to the authorities. Since identifying the drone would require access to a database linking each number with a name, the invisible license plate approach would be less likely to be abused outside of law enforcement, DJI suggests.
"The best solution is usually the simplest," DJI wrote on Monday. "The focus of the primary method for remote identification should be on a way for anyone concerned about a drone flight in close proximity to report an identifier number to the authorities, who would then have the tools to investigate the complaint without infringing on operator privacy."
Source: Digital Trends
On Monday, the FAA will launch its online registry for drone operators with the aim of collecting personal information from the owners of these unmanned aircraft. But according to a report from Forbes, all those names and addresses will eventually be publicly available. Which seems... kinda scary?
Over at Forbes, John Goglia says he's been poking the FAA for answers ever since the FAQ about registration went up. Of particular concern are two contradictory statements from the FAA and DOT. The FAA says only their agency and a contractor will have access to the personal information collected. The DOT says that all information regarding registered aircraft must be made publicly available. So Goglia emailed the FAA until he got this answer:
"Until the drone registry system is modified, the FAA will not release names and address. When the drone registry system is modified to permit public searches of registration numbers, names and addresses will be revealed through those searches."
To me, despite the fact that I don't have a drone (nor do I plan on getting one), this is a very scary slippery slope that we are running down. Today it is a publicly searchable drone registry, what comes next? That I own a gun? My tax returns? How I voted in the last few elections? My medical history?
While I can see the want to keep tabs on drones that are able to carry cameras, and there are tremendous privacy concerns about it, having a database like this be publicly searchable is a VERY frightening prospect.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will allow drone flights without a Certificate of Authorization at an altitude of up to 400 feet in areas without restricted airspace:
After a comprehensive risk analysis, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has raised the unmanned aircraft (UAS) "blanket" altitude authorization for Section 333 exemption holders and government aircraft operators to 400 feet. Previously, the agency had put in place a nationwide Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for such flights up to 200 feet.
The new COA policy allows small unmanned aircraft—operated as other than model aircraft (i.e. commercial use)—to fly up to 400 feet anywhere in the country except restricted airspace and other areas, such as major cities, where the agency prohibits UAS operations.
[...] The FAA expects the move will reduce the workload for COA applications for industry UAS operators, government agencies and the FAA's Air Traffic Organization. The agency also estimates the move will lessen the need for individual COAs by 30 to 40 percent. Other provisions of an FAA authorization, such as registering the UAS and making sure pilots have the proper certification, still apply.
Drone hackers/researchers can modify the firmware for DJI drones, thanks to rogue DJI developers and a fork of a public Github repo:
Github rejected a DMCA takedown request from Chinese drone-maker DJI after someone forked source code left in the open by a naughty DJI developer, The Register can reveal.
This included AES keys permitting decryption of flight control firmware, which could allow drone fliers with technical skills to remove geofencing from the flight control software: this software prevents DJI drones from flying in certain areas such as the approach paths for airports, or near government buildings deemed to be sensitive.
Though the released key is not for the latest firmware version, The Register has seen evidence (detailed below) that drone hackers are already incorporating it in modified firmware available for anyone to download and flash to their drones.
[...] In fact the people who posted the keys to DJI's kingdom, as well as source code for various projects, were DJI devs. The company said in a later statement that they were sacked.
The code was forked by drone researcher Kevin Finisterre, who submitted a successful rebuttal to the takedown request on the grounds that Github's terms and conditions explicitly permit forking of public repos.
[...] Drone hackers have already begun distributing modded firmware for DJI's popular Phantom drones, as we can see on – where else? – Github
Related: DJI introduced new software to stop its drones from flying in restricted airspace.
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