In just a few years thousands of drone aircraft could be filling the skies over the United States. Over the past seven years the Federal Aviation Administration has approved over 1,400 requests for drone use by government agencies and universities. During the last five years eighty law enforcement agencies has been approved to fly drones. Of course, this has many of us, who are privacy advocates, worried.
Congress has given the FAA a mandate to develop a plan for safely integrating drone aircraft into U.S. airspace by September of 2015. The FAA has also estimated that 7,500 commercial drones will be operating over the United States within a few years.
These drones can be as small as a bird or have very large wing spans. However, reports indicate that most law enforcement drones will only weigh some two pounds and only fly for a few minutes.
Due to privacy concerns some forty states considered legislation involving drones in 2013. Many of these bills seek to regulate law enforcement’s use of information-gathering drones. These concerns were spurred on after Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress that a drone attack could be ordered on a U.S. citizen on American soil, he went on to say that President Obama, “has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against U.S. citizens without a trial.”
It has been reported that the Department of Homeland Security has the technology to enable a drone aircraft to determine if a civilian is carrying a gun. This technology is capable of identifying a standing human at night and it can determine if that human is armed. It can also track civilians through their cell phones.
In July of this year, Senator Rand Paul requested information from FBI Director Robert Muellar about that agency’s unmanned aerial vehicles surveillance programs. In a July 19th letter to Senator Paul, Stephen Kelly replied to the Senator’s request. Kelly wrote, in part, “Without a warrant the FBI will not use UAVs to acquire information in which individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.”
Senator Paul then sent another letter to Mueller requesting clarification of “reasonable expectation”. Paul wrote in part, “----, I ask that you provide me the Bureau’s definition of when an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. I further ask that you provide me with copies of any guidance documents, including, but not limited to, education and training material, field manuals, legal memorandum, ect, used by the Bureau to define when a reasonable expectation of privacy would or would not be assumed in a given situation. Further, do those rules or interpretations differ by information collection platform? If so, please provide an explanation of the additional considerations when using drones.”
Senator Paul wrote this letter some fifteen days ago. Since that time the FBI has a new director who was recently approved by Congress. Apparently Senator Paul is still waiting for a reply to this letter.
In April of this year the Idaho Legislature passed a bill limiting the use of drones in Idaho’s airspace, and Governor Otter signed the bill into law. The bill bans authorities, or anyone, from using drones to conduct surveillance on people, or their property, including agricultural operations, without written consent.
Quote for the Week: “He who peeps through a hole may see what will vex him.”----Unknown.
posted with permission from the writer