***Editor’s note: This blog is part of the “Drone Story of the Week” series. If you have an idea for a story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org***
For months, Brazilian authorities have been taking several preemptive measures to keep drones away from designated Olympic areas—such as partnering with drone manufacturers, like China-based DJI, to update their software to include no-fly zones over certain areas.
But last Friday, during the 2016 Olympic Games opening ceremony at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, attendees reported as many as three drones flitting above the venue.
The aircraft didn’t stay long—and fortunately so. The Brazilian military has other tricks up their sleeves, but these measures have been causing quite the controversial stir.
The Brazilian military purchased eight of IACT’s DroneBlocker devices, prompted by a situation during the 2014 World Cup when one team was accused of using a drone to spy on other teams’ practice sessions. The device bombards a drone with radio signals, jamming its signal to the controller.
In the case of the Olympic ceremony, however, a successfully thwarted drone would’ve dropped right into the middle of the stadium—you know, where 60,000 people were packed in. (I reckon, falling debris would hurt more than French gymnast Samir Ait Said snapping his leg in half after vaulting during the men’s qualifier).
But that’s not all.
Back in February, Brazil’s national telecom agency authorized the military to jam radio signals during the Olympic Games, inciting worry that cell-service blackouts could happen even after the Games conclude.
“Blocking signals, even during an emergency, just prevents people from getting access to emergency services,” Access Now’s Deji Olukotun told The Verge. “It sows confusion, and we’ve seen time and time again that that kind of blocking often precedes human rights violations.”
In the U.S., the power to bring down a drone via signal jamming is limited to federal agencies. Activists therefore worry that Brazil’s anti-drone measures during the Olympics have the dangerous potential to be applied by the same powers against civilians.
“Once the army has this technology,” Olukotun added, “we have no knowledge of the limits on how it can be applied.”