Entries Tagged "guns"

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Drone Self-Defense and the Law

Last month, a Kentucky man shot down a drone that was hovering near his backyard.

WDRB News reported that the camera drone’s owners soon showed up at the home of the shooter, William H. Merideth: “Four guys came over to confront me about it, and I happened to be armed, so that changed their minds,” Merideth said. “They asked me, ‘Are you the S-O-B that shot my drone?’ and I said, ‘Yes I am,'” he said. “I had my 40 mm Glock on me and they started toward me and I told them, ‘If you cross my sidewalk, there’s gonna be another shooting.'” Police charged Meredith with criminal mischief and wanton endangerment.

This is a trend. People have shot down drones in southern New Jersey and rural California as well. It’s illegal, and they get arrested for it.

Technology changes everything. Specifically, it upends long-standing societal balances around issues like security and privacy. When a capability becomes possible, or cheaper, or more common, the changes can be far-reaching. Rebalancing security and privacy after technology changes capabilities can be very difficult, and take years. And we’re not very good at it.

The security threats from drones are real, and the government is taking them seriously. In January, a man lost control of his drone, which crashed on the White House lawn. In May, another man was arrested for trying to fly his drone over the White House fence, and another last week for flying a drone into the stadium where the U.S. Open was taking place.

Drones have attempted to deliver drugs to prisons in Maryland, Ohio and South Carolina ­so far.

There have been many near-misses between drones and airplanes. Many people have written about the possible terrorist uses of drones.

Defenses are being developed. Both Lockheed Martin and Boeing sell anti-drone laser weapons. One company sells shotgun shells specifically designed to shoot down drones.

Other companies are working on technologies to detect and disable them safely. Some of those technologies were used to provide security at this year’s Boston Marathon.

Law enforcement can deploy these technologies, but under current law it’s illegal to shoot down a drone, even if it’s hovering above your own property. In our society, you’re generally not allowed to take the law into your own hands. You’re expected to call the police and let them deal with it.

There’s an alternate theory, though, from law professor Michael Froomkin. He argues that self-defense should be permissible against drones simply because you don’t know their capabilities. We know, for example, that people have mounted guns on drones, which means they could pose a threat to life. Note that this legal theory has not been tested in court.

Increasingly, government is regulating drones and drone flights both at the state level and by the FAA. There are proposals to require that drones have an identifiable transponder, or no-fly zones programmed into the drone software.

Still, a large number of security issues remain unresolved. How do we feel about drones with long-range listening devices, for example? Or drones hovering outside our property and photographing us through our windows?

What’s going on is that drones have changed how we think about security and privacy within our homes, by removing the protections we used to get from fences and walls. Of course, being spied on and shot at from above is nothing new, but access to those technologies was expensive and largely the purview of governments and some corporations. Drones put these capabilities into the hands of hobbyists, and we don’t know what to do about it.

The issues around drones will get worse as we move from remotely piloted aircraft to true drones: aircraft that operate autonomously from a computer program. For the first time, autonomous robots — ­with ever-increasing intelligence and capabilities at an ever-decreasing cost — ­will have access to public spaces. This will create serious problems for society, because our legal system is largely based on deterring human miscreants rather than their proxies.

Our desire to shoot down a drone hovering nearby is understandable, given its potential threat. Society’s need for people not to take the law into their own hands­ — and especially not to fire guns into the air­ — is also understandable. These two positions are increasingly coming into conflict, and will require increasing government regulation to sort out. But more importantly, we need to rethink our assumptions of security and privacy in a world of autonomous drones, long-range cameras, face recognition, and the myriad other technologies that are increasingly in the hands of everyone.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

Posted on September 11, 2015 at 6:45 AMView Comments

Shooting Down Drones

A Kentucky man shot down a drone that was hovering in his backyard:

“It was just right there,” he told Ars. “It was hovering, I would never have shot it if it was flying. When he came down with a video camera right over my back deck, that’s not going to work. I know they’re neat little vehicles, but one of those uses shouldn’t be flying into people’s yards and videotaping.”

Minutes later, a car full of four men that he didn’t recognize rolled up, “looking for a fight.”

“Are you the son of a bitch that shot my drone?” one said, according to Merideth.

His terse reply to the men, while wearing a 10mm Glock holstered on his hip: “If you cross that sidewalk onto my property, there’s going to be another shooting.”

He was arrested, but what’s the law?

In the view of drone lawyer Brendan Schulman and robotics law professor Ryan Calo, home owners can’t just start shooting when they see a drone over their house. The reason is because the law frowns on self-help when a person can just call the police instead. This means that Meredith may not have been defending his house, but instead engaging in criminal acts and property damage for which he could have to pay.

But a different and bolder argument, put forward by law professor Michael Froomkin, could provide Meredith some cover. In a paper, Froomkin argues that it’s reasonable to assume robotic intrusions are not harmless, and that people may have a right to “employ violent self-help.”

Froomkin’s paper is well worth reading:

Abstract: Robots can pose — or can appear to pose — a threat to life, property, and privacy. May a landowner legally shoot down a trespassing drone? Can she hold a trespassing autonomous car as security against damage done or further torts? Is the fear that a drone may be operated by a paparazzo or a peeping Tom sufficient grounds to disable or interfere with it? How hard may you shove if the office robot rolls over your foot? This paper addresses all those issues and one more: what rules and standards we could put into place to make the resolution of those questions easier and fairer to all concerned.

The default common-law legal rules governing each of these perceived threats are somewhat different, although reasonableness always plays an important role in defining legal rights and options. In certain cases — drone overflights, autonomous cars, national, state, and even local regulation — may trump the common law. Because it is in most cases obvious that humans can use force to protect themselves against actual physical attack, the paper concentrates on the more interesting cases of (1) robot (and especially drone) trespass and (2) responses to perceived threats other than physical attack by robots notably the risk that the robot (or drone) may be spying – perceptions which may not always be justified, but which sometimes may nonetheless be considered reasonable in law.

We argue that the scope of permissible self-help in defending one’s privacy should be quite broad. There is exigency in that resort to legally administered remedies would be impracticable; and worse, the harm caused by a drone that escapes with intrusive recordings can be substantial and hard to remedy after the fact. Further, it is common for new technology to be seen as risky and dangerous, and until proven otherwise drones are no exception. At least initially, violent self-help will seem, and often may be, reasonable even when the privacy threat is not great — or even extant. We therefore suggest measures to reduce uncertainties about robots, ranging from forbidding weaponized robots to requiring lights, and other markings that would announce a robot’s capabilities, and RFID chips and serial numbers that would uniquely identify the robot’s owner.

The paper concludes with a brief examination of what if anything our survey of a person’s right to defend against robots might tell us about the current state of robot rights against people.

Note that there are drones that shoot back.

Here are two books that talk about these topics. And an article from 2012.

EDITED TO ADD (8/9): How to shoot down a drone.

Posted on August 4, 2015 at 8:24 AMView Comments

Common Risks in America: Cars and Guns

I have long said that driving a car is the most dangerous thing regularly do in our lives. Turns out deaths due to automobiles are declining, while deaths due to firearms are on the rise:

Guns and cars have long been among the leading causes of non-medical deaths in the U.S. By 2015, firearm fatalities will probably exceed traffic fatalities for the first time, based on data compiled by Bloomberg.

While motor-vehicle deaths dropped 22 percent from 2005 to 2010, gun fatalities are rising again after a low point in 2000, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shooting deaths in 2015 will probably rise to almost 33,000, and those related to autos will decline to about 32,000, based on the 10-year average trend.

There’s also this story.

Posted on January 16, 2015 at 6:19 AMView Comments

About Police Shoot Outs and Spectators

Hopefully this advice is superfluous for my audience, but it’s so well written it’s worth reading nonetheless:

7. SO, the bottom line is this: If you are in a place where you hear steady, and sustained, and nearby (lets call that, for some technical reasons, anything less than 800 meters) gunfire, do these things:

  • Go to your basement. You are cool there.
  • If you don’t have a basement, go to the other side of the house from the firing, and leave, heading away from the firing. Do not stop for a mile.
  • If you do not think that you can leave, get on the ground floor, as far from the firing as possible, and place something solid between you and the firing. Solid is something like a bathtub, a car (engine block), a couple of concrete walls (single layer brick…nope).
  • If you are high up (say 4rd story or higher) just get away from the side of the building where the firing is taking place. You will, mostly, be protected by the thick concrete of the structure.

8. But for cripes sake, do not step out on to your front porch and start recording a video on your iPhone, unless you actually have a death-wish, or are being paid significant amounts of money, in advance, as a combat journalist/cameraman.

Posted on April 21, 2013 at 10:48 AMView Comments

This Week's Overreactions

Schools go into lockdown over a thermometer, a car backfiring, a bank robbery a few blocks away, a student alone in a gym, a neighbor on the street, and some vague unfounded rumors. And one high-school kid was arrested for drawing pictures of guns. Everywhere else, post-traumatic stupidity syndrome. (It’s not a new phrase — Google shows hits back to 2001 — but it’s new to me. It reminds me of this.) I think of it as: “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, we must do it.”

I’m not going to write about the Newtown school massacre. I wrote this earlier this year after the Aurora shooting, which was a rewrite of this about the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. I feel as if I’m endlessly repeating myself. This essay, also from 2007, on the anti-terrorism “War on the Unexpected,” is also relevant. Just remember, we’re the safest we’ve been in 40 years.

Posted on December 21, 2012 at 12:12 PMView Comments

Unsafe Safes

In a long article about insecurities in gun safes, there’s this great paragraph:

Unfortunately, manufacturers and consumers are deceived and misled into a false sense of security by electronic credentials, codes, and biometrics. We have seen this often, even with high security locks. Our rule: electrons do not open doors; mechanical components do. If you can compromise the mechanisms then all the credentials, encryption, fingerprint readers, and other gizmos and gimmicks mean nothing.

In other words, security is only as strong as the weakest link.

EDITED TO ADD (8/13): DefCon 19 talk on the security of gun safes.

Posted on August 3, 2012 at 12:57 PMView Comments

Overreaction and Overly Specific Reactions to Rare Risks

Horrific events, such as the massacre in Aurora, can be catalysts for social and political change. Sometimes it seems that they’re the only catalyst; recall how drastically our policies toward terrorism changed after 9/11 despite how moribund they were before.

The problem is that fear can cloud our reasoning, causing us to overreact and to overly focus on the specifics. And the key is to steer our desire for change in that time of fear.

Our brains aren’t very good at probability and risk analysis. We tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar and common ones. We think rare risks are more common than they are. We fear them more than probability indicates we should.

There is a lot of psychological research that tries to explain this, but one of the key findings is this: People tend to base risk analysis more on stories than on data. Stories engage us at a much more visceral level, especially stories that are vivid, exciting or personally involving.

If a friend tells you about getting mugged in a foreign country, that story is more likely to affect how safe you feel traveling to that country than reading a page of abstract crime statistics will.

Novelty plus dread plus a good story equals overreaction.

And who are the major storytellers these days? Television and the Internet. So when news programs and sites endlessly repeat the story from Aurora, with interviews with those in the theater, interviews with the families, and commentary by anyone who has a point to make, we start to think this is something to fear, rather than a rare event that almost never happens and isn’t worth worrying about. In other words, reading five stories about the same event feels somewhat like five separate events, and that skews our perceptions.

We see the effects of this all the time.

It’s strangers by whom we fear being murdered, kidnapped, raped and assaulted, when it’s far more likely that any perpetrator of such offenses is a relative or a friend. We worry about airplane crashes and rampaging shooters instead of automobile crashes and domestic violence — both of which are far more common and far, far more deadly.

Our greatest recent overreaction to a rare event was our response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I remember then-Attorney General John Ashcroft giving a speech in Minnesota — where I live — in 2003 in which he claimed that the fact there were no new terrorist attacks since 9/11 was proof that his policies were working. I remember thinking: “There were no terrorist attacks in the two years preceding 9/11, and you didn’t have any policies. What does that prove?”

What it proves is that terrorist attacks are very rare, and perhaps our national response wasn’t worth the enormous expense, loss of liberty, attacks on our Constitution and damage to our credibility on the world stage. Still, overreacting was the natural thing for us to do. Yes, it was security theater and not real security, but it made many of us feel safer.

The rarity of events such as the Aurora massacre doesn’t mean we should ignore any lessons it might teach us. Because people overreact to rare events, they’re useful catalysts for social introspection and policy change. The key here is to focus not on the details of the particular event but on the broader issues common to all similar events.

Installing metal detectors at movie theaters doesn’t make sense — there’s no reason to think the next crazy gunman will choose a movie theater as his venue, and how effectively would a metal detector deter a lone gunman anyway? — but understanding the reasons why the United States has so many gun deaths compared with other countries does. The particular motivations of alleged killer James Holmes aren’t relevant — the next gunman will have different motivations — but the general state of mental health care in the United States is.

Even with this, the most important lesson of the Aurora massacre is how rare these events actually are. Our brains are primed to believe that movie theaters are more dangerous than they used to be, but they’re not. The riskiest part of the evening is still the car ride to and from the movie theater, and even that’s very safe.

But wear a seat belt all the same.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com, and is an update of this essay.

EDITED TO ADD: I almost added that Holmes wouldn’t have been stopped by a metal detector. He walked into the theater unarmed and left through a back door, which he propped open so he could return armed. And while there was talk about installing metal detectors in movie theaters, I have not heard of any theater actually doing so. But AMC movie theaters have announced a “no masks or costumes policy” as a security measure.

Posted on August 3, 2012 at 6:03 AMView Comments

Lone Shooters and Body Armor

The new thing about the Aurora shooting wasn’t the weaponry, but the armor:

What distinguished Holmes wasn’t his offense. It was his defense. At Columbine, Harris and Klebold did their damage in T-shirts and cargo pants. Cho and Loughner wore sweatshirts. Hasan was gunned down in his Army uniform.

Holmes’ outfit blew these jokers away. He wore a ballistic helmet, a ballistic vest, ballistic leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector, and tactical gloves. He was so well equipped that if anyone in that theater had tried what the National Rifle Association recommends — drawing a firearm to stop the carnage — that person would have been dead meat. Holmes didn’t just kill a dozen people. He killed the NRA’s answer to gun violence.

[…]

Essentially, Holmes has called the NRA’s bluff. It may be true that the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But the best way to stop a good guy with a gun is a bad guy with body armor. And judging from Holmes’ vest receipt, he wasn’t even buying the serious stuff.

The NRA bases its good-guy approach on a well-substantiated military doctrine: deterrence. By arming myself with a weapon that can hurt you, I discourage you from attacking me. For many years, this doctrine averted war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Each side feared mutually assured destruction. What broke the deadlock wasn’t a weapon. It was a shield: strategic missile defense. The Soviets understood that a system capable of shooting down their nuclear missiles would, by removing their power to deter us, free us to attack. The best offense, it turns out, is a good defense.

That’s what Holmes figured out. Defense, not offense, is the next stage of the gun-violence arms race. Equipping citizens with concealed weapons doesn’t stop bad guys. It just pushes them to the next level. The next level is body armor. And unlike missile defense, which has proved to be complicated and disappointing, body armor is relatively simple.

EDITED TO ADD (8/2): Seems that the amount of body armor Holmes wore was exaggerated.

Posted on August 1, 2012 at 1:34 PMView Comments

Britain's Prince Philip on Security

On banning guns:

“If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat,which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?” In a Radio 4 interview shortly after the Dunblane shootings in 1996. He said to the interviewer off-air afterwards: “That will really set the cat among the pigeons, won’t it?”

Posted on June 18, 2012 at 12:38 PMView Comments

Movie-Plot Threats at the U.S. Capitol

This would make a great movie:

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., renewed his call for the installation of an impenetrable, see-through security shield around the viewing gallery overlooking the House floor. Burton points out that, while guns and some bombs would be picked up by metal detectors, a saboteur could get into the Capitol concealing plastic explosives.

The House floor, he pointed out, is the only room where all three branches of government gather to hear the president speak, as President Obama will do when he delivers his State of the Union address on Jan. 25.

Burton introduced the legislation in the past, but it’s gone nowhere. He’s hoping the tragic events of Saturday could help it win more serious consideration by the Republican leadership.

“I think the risk is there,” Burton told The Washington Examiner. “The threat is more now than it has ever been.”

Posted on January 18, 2011 at 6:29 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.