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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Prison Security and Drone-Smuggled Contraband

Today's New York Times has this interesting article on the use of drones to smuggle contraband into prisons. It begins:

During the graveyard shift at 1:44 a.m., security cameras at the prison here picked up the blinking lights of an unidentified flying object approaching the facility’s fence. 
A corrections officer was dispatched to investigate, but by the time she got there, all she could see was a man running away into the dense forest that surrounds the prison. 
It was not until dawn that officers found a package that included a cellphone, tobacco and marijuana tangled in the power lines outside the prison and a small drone that had crashed in the bushes nearby. In the woods, investigators located a makeshift campground, the remote control device used to fly the drone, a bottle of grape-flavored Gatorade and drugs. 
“It was a delivery system,” said Bryan P. Stirling, the director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, explaining how the drone’s operators had planned to send the contraband into the prison, the Lee Correctional Institution. “They were sending in smaller amounts in repeated trips. They would put it on there, they would deliver it, someone inside would get it somehow, and they would send it back out and send more in.” 
It is the high-tech version of smuggling a file into a prison in a birthday cake, and it underscores the headache that drones are now creating for law enforcement and national security officials, who acknowledge that they have few, if any, ways of stopping them.
The article goes on to explain various techniques that prisons are exploring for stopping drone delivery of contraband. One solution that may hold promise is "geofencing," or software that would render drones inoperable within a certain range of sensitive locations.

I have blogged before about incidents of attempted smuggling of contraband into prisons using drones. It is also worth noting the relatively recent incident where a meth-carrying drone crashed near the U.S. - Mexico border.

While drones may be useful for smuggling contraband over prison walls, flaws in this delivery system include drones' visibility and noisiness. As drone technology develops, however, drones may become a more effective means for circumventing security measures. Prison administrations would do well to explore geofencing technology sooner, rather than later, in order to head off this problem.

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