The conservative Heritage Foundation has issued a report on “Drones in U.S. Airspace: Principles for Governance” with proposals for how domestic drones ought to be regulated. The authors agree with much of what my co-author Catherine Crump and I said in our drones report last year. The Heritage Foundation tends to lean more towards national-security conservatism than libertarian conservatism, so when the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation see more or less eye to eye on an issue like this, it’s a sure sign that a national consensus is emerging.
The authors of the Heritage report (Paul Rosenzweig, Steven Bucci, Charles Stimson, and James Jay Carafano) say:
Moving beyond those general principles, the paper says that:
The paper also includes a list of uses of drones that, the authors say, “ought to have sensible and minimal restrictions.” For many of the uses they list, such as personnel search and rescue and agricultural or environmental monitoring, we would agree. However, they also list “long-term surveillance of a specified area.” We would not agree that there should only be minimal restrictions on, for example, the persistent monitoring of entire neighborhoods. Sensible would not mean minimal in that case.
They also endorse these “sensible and minimal” restrictions when it comes to “criminal personnel search and/or pursuit.” I can imagine situations in which we wouldn’t object to that (for example, pursuit of fleeing bank robbers), but others in which we would (for example, searching an entire city using face- or gait-recognition for a fugitive who was last seen days or weeks ago).
The paper is a bit vague on these points, however, and overall, the Heritage paper is quite good, which I think reflects the broad political consensus behind the need to preserve privacy in the face of drone technology.