Do domestic drones violate the right to privacy?
March 29, 2013
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
Unmanned drones have become a stealthy asset in the war on terror, collecting data on the movements of enemies and making strikes on targets. They are small, nimble and nearly silent, and they could keep tabs on law-abiding citizens from skies near you.
This is a scenario that some politicians and civil rights groups warn could be coming in the near future.
The federal government already is using drones to patrol the borders with Mexico and Canada. This means more ground can be patrolled with fewer Border Patrol agents. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use drones to track storms.
But the domestic use of drones is raising concerns about privacy as well as potential Fourth Amendment violations. In late March, 24 civil rights and privacy organizations submitted a formal petition to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to suspend their use until a legal framework is established to determine when, if ever, they can be used in the United States.
“The thought of government drones buzzing overhead and constantly monitoring the activities of law-abiding citizens runs contrary to the notion of what it means to live in a free society,” Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said at a Judiciary Committee hearing on whether legislation on drones was needed to protect civil liberties.
Local and state law enforcement agencies are warming up to the idea of using drones for reconnaissance. On the local level, drones could help in missing-person searches or alert officers about accidents and crimes and provide video of the incidents. In Mesa County, Colo., the sheriff’s department uses two, 5-pound drones to assist in reconnaissance. Sheriff Benjamin Miller estimated drones can do “30 percent of the missions of manned aviation for 2 percent of the cost.”
Besides law enforcement, they can also be used to fight fires, photograph real estate for sale or survey crops. In the future, the apples that you eat may be inspected by a drone, ensuring that the fruit is free of disease.
“This fast-emerging technology is cheap and could pose a significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of Americans, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said in a New York Times interview. “It is another example of a fast-changing policy area on which we need to focus to make sure that modern technology is not used to erode Americans’ right to privacy.”
Since 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration has authorized more than 1,400 unmanned aircraft for limited use by local police departments, universities and several federal agencies. The drones range from bird-sized devices to Predators that weigh two-and-a-half tons.
State legislation has begun cropping up aimed at restricting the use of drones. Some states forbid weapons on drones while others require local governments to approve their use for any activity. Thirty states have drafted drone restrictions with a range of privacy and Fourth Amendment protections, including limiting the collection and use of data.
What do you think?
Should unmanned drones be used in the United States? For what purposes should governments use drones? What, if any, restrictions should be imposed on drones and the information they collect? Should a warrant be required for police to collect information through drones on criminal suspects? Join the discussion and let us know!
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