Domestic Drones

U.S. law enforcement is greatly expanding its use of domestic drones for surveillance. Routine aerial surveillance would profoundly change the character of public life in America. Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a “surveillance society” in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government. Drone manufacturers are also considering offering police the option of arming these remote-controlled aircraft with (nonlethal for now) weapons like rubber bullets, Tasers, and tear gas. Read the ACLU’s full report on domestic drones here. 

Numerous states are considering (and some have passed) legislation regulating the use of drones. You can see a chart summarizing the developments around the country here. Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to change airspace rules to make it much easier for police nationwide to use domestic drones, but the law does not include badly needed privacy protections. The ACLU recommends the following safeguards:

USAGE LIMITS: Drones should be deployed by law enforcement only with a warrant, in an emergency, or when there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific criminal act.

DATA RETENTION: Images should be retained only when there is reasonable suspicion that they contain evidence of a crime or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or trial.

POLICY: Usage policy on domestic drones should be decided by the public’s representatives, not by police departments, and the policies should be clear, written, and open to the public.

ABUSE PREVENTION & ACCOUNTABILITY: Use of domestic drones should be subject to open audits and proper oversight to prevent misuse.

WEAPONS: Domestic drones should not be equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons.

Click here for information on the U.S. government’s use of drones overseas for targeted killings.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

What Captain America Has to Say About the NSA

By Josh Bell, Media Strategist, ACLU at 10:41am
SPOILER WARNING: This post discusses major plot points of the new Captain America movie.
Rapid Improvements in Lidar Technology Could Have Surveillance Implications

Rapid Improvements in Lidar Technology Could Have Surveillance Implications

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:25am

Technology Review has an article out on advances in lidar technology. The article is a reminder of just how many fronts there are where we’re seeing large technological advances with possible implications for surveillance.

Lidar is like radar…

Persistent Aerial Surveillance: Do We Want To Go There, America?

Persistent Aerial Surveillance: Do We Want To Go There, America?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:32am

The Washington Post ran a story Thursday on a technology that I've been very concerned about for a while: persistent aerial surveillance. Specifically, it profiled a company, Persistent Surveillance Solutions, that has been deploying this panoptic…

Police Hunger for Drones May be Growing, but So Are Privacy Concerns

Police Hunger for Drones May be Growing, but So Are Privacy Concerns

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:06pm

The ACLU’s Chris Calabrese testified yesterday before the Senate Commerce Committee in a hearing on the economic benefits and the safety, privacy, and First Amendment implications of unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — which are poised to invade…

Drone Test Site Selections Belie State Anti-Privacy Argument

Drone Test Site Selections Belie State Anti-Privacy Argument

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 1:40pm

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday announced six states, chosen from 25 applicants, that will be test sites for integrating drones into domestic airspace: Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia (the Alaska test…

Amazon and Drones

Amazon and Drones

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 8:04am

Amazon attracted a lot of attention this weekend when, on “60 Minutes,” CEO Jeff Bezos announced a futuristic vision for the company: using drones to make deliveries within 30 minutes to homes in metropolitan areas.

The biggest import of…

The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of State Legislation Passed This Year

The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of State Legislation Passed This Year

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 8:50am

2013 could easily be christened the year of the drone. It was the first full state legislative session after Congress passed a law requiring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to open up domestic airspace much more widely to drones, and it brought…

Capability is Driving Policy, Not Just at the NSA But Also in Police Departments

Capability is Driving Policy, Not Just at the NSA But Also in Police Departments

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 11:25am

If you’re concerned about the dragnet nature of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, then you should also pay attention to what your local police department is doing. You may find that the dragnet surveillance happening there has…

Destroying the Right to Be Left Alone

Destroying the Right to Be Left Alone

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 10:37am

The NSA Isn't the Only Government Agency Exploiting Technology to Make Privacy Obsolete

Aerospace Group Issues Recommendations for State Drone Legislation

Aerospace Group Issues Recommendations for State Drone Legislation

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 12:49pm

Bills aimed at regulating domestic surveillance drones are sweeping the nation. We've been working on domestic drones since before the issue crossed legislators' radars, so, knowing their reach, we were hopeful when several leading state government…

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