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Lawman likes eye in sky as monitor

- The Washington Times - Friday, April 29, 2005

If a kite appears to be following you in La Plata, Md., it very well may be.

The Charles County Sheriff's Office recently monitored a gathering of motorcycle riders by launching a remote-control aerial camera to watch for emergencies or troublemakers.

An official said yesterday the battery-powered spy plane was launched as a test run and that he's not sure whether the agency will buy the craft -- but the results were good.

?I liked what I saw,? said Lt. Chris Becker, the agency's commander of homeland security and intelligence. ?A tactical operations team member could readily carry it in the trunk of his patrol car and assemble it in just minutes.?

Still, not everybody is pleased with the mini spy plane, marketed by Cyber Defense Systems Inc. and sold regionally by Applied Techniques Corporation.

Susan Goering, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, said devices such as CyberBug are an intrusion on a citizen's civil rights.

?The concern is, obviously, a privacy issue, but also that the constitutional right to assemble is being chilled," Miss Goering said. "We are fast approaching the time when the government will be monitoring our every move."

She also said the issue is of special concern when citizens rally against the government.

"Dissent in this country is the lifeblood of democracy," Miss Goering said. "If someone is attending an event that's [anti-government], they should be able to do so without fear the government will retaliate in some manner."

Lt. Becker said the "CyberBug" went on two 30-minute flights April 17 over the 12th annual Southern Maryland "Blessing of the Bikes" at the Charles County Fairgrounds, which organizers said was attended by about 8,000 people.

"I was quite impressed with how easy it was to launch and how well it monitored the area," he said. "Besides crowd and traffic control, I see law enforcement using the CyberBug in a multitude of applications especially when it comes to crime fighting and homeland security."

A base-model CyberBug costs $7,500 and can be placed in a stationary position or controlled with a joystick device. It can stay in the air for more than three hours and comes with a variety of features -- including the camera, a global positioning system and an explosive trigger for qualified customers.

Cyber Defense Systems is marketing CyberBug as a low-cost way for law-enforcement agencies, military forces, business owners and state or local governments to monitor their properties, including potential terrorist targets.

Lt. Becker said Sheriff Frederick E. Davis will make the decision on whether to buy the CyberBug and that he knows of no other agencies in the region that have it.