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.

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

We Already Have Police Helicopters, So What’s the Big Deal Over Drones?

We Already Have Police Helicopters, So What’s the Big Deal Over Drones?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:26am

As drone regulation legislation works its way through Congress and the 30 (so far) state legislatures where it has been introduced, one question that we hear a lot these days is, “we’ve had police helicopters for a long time, what’s so different…

What the FBI Needs to Tell Americans About Its Use of Drones

What the FBI Needs to Tell Americans About Its Use of Drones

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 3:17pm

You've got to hand it to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): He has become one of the foremost members of Congress fighting for Americans' privacy rights, and has worked doggedly to shed light on how the government is using new technologies to monitor us without…

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…

Ohio Aerial Surveillance System Moving Forward Without Having to Wait For FAA Drone Rules

Ohio Aerial Surveillance System Moving Forward Without Having to Wait For FAA Drone Rules

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:07am

I wrote recently about ARGUS, the high-flying drone technology capable of capturing super-high-definition video of a 15-square mile area...

Republican Party Platform Advocates Regulation of Drone Surveillance

Republican Party Platform Advocates Regulation of Drone Surveillance

By Naomi Gilens, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 12:03pm

The Republican Party’s 2012 platform, unveiled at the RNC Tuesday, includes this reference to domestic drone surveillance:

Affirming ‘the right of the people to be secure in their houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable…

If Drones Get Quiet

If Drones Get Quiet

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 5:48pm

In my post earlier today on the nightmare scenario for drones, I described various technological improvements that are likely to happen, which could enable pervasive drone surveillance. One key avenue of technology progress I didn’t mention is…

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…

Congress Trying to Fast-Track Domestic Drone Use, Sideline Privacy

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:39pm

Congress is poised to give final passage to legislation that would give a big boost to domestic unmanned aerial surveillance — aka “drones.”

As we explained in our recent report, drone technology is advancing by leaps and…

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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