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.

Easily Abused, Domestic Drones Raise Enormous Privacy Concerns

Easily Abused, Domestic Drones Raise Enormous Privacy Concerns

By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 10:06am

Shortly before next week’s one-year anniversary of the Oakland Police Department’s brutal crackdown on Occupy Oakland, Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern announced that he was seeking funds to purchase a drone to engage in unspecified unmanned aerial surveillance.

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.

What is patriotism? Is it doing what the government says, or is it doing what you believe is true to the Constitution and American values? "Captain America:…

Drone Drawing by Cuauhtemoc-Hidalgo Villa-Zapata

Up to 20% of Border Patrol Drone Flights Are Inside the United States

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 7:46am

The GAO released a report Tuesday on Customs and Border Patrol’s use of Predator drones in which it revealed that up to 20 percent of the CBP’s drone flight hours were spent in airspace inside “border and coastal areas."

Drone technology…

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…

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…

Drone ‘Nightmare Scenario’ Now Has A Name: ARGUS

Drone ‘Nightmare Scenario’ Now Has A Name: ARGUS

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:06am

The PBS series NOVA, “Rise of the Drones,” recently aired a segment detailing the capabilities of a powerful aerial surveillance system known as ARGUS-IS, which is basically a super-high, 1.8 gigapixel resolution camera that can be mounted on a drone. As demonstrated in this clip, the system is capable of high-resolution monitoring and recording of an entire city. (The clip was written about in DefenseTech and in Slate.)

In the clip, the developer explains how the technology (which he also refers to with the apt name “Wide Area Persistent Stare”) is “equivalent to having up to a hundred Predators look at an area the size of a medium-sized city at once.”

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…

VIDEO: See What Armed Domestic Drones Look Like

VIDEO: See What Armed Domestic Drones Look Like

By Josh Bell, Media Strategist, ACLU at 4:09pm

A big worry about U.S. law enforcement’s expanding use of drones is the lack of rules protecting from privacy violations. But drone manufacturers are also considering offering police the option of arming these remote controlled aircraft with…

Crop of image by Tom Blackwell via Flickr

Drones Manufacturer Allies With ACLU to Call For Pro-Industry Privacy Regulation

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 8:11am

Within any industry, there are always those with a narrow grasp of their interests, and those with the strategic vision to see the industry’s deeper interest. My colleague Sarah Preston of the ACLU of North Carolina has co-authored an op-ed in the…

The DIY Armed Drone

The DIY Armed Drone

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:32pm

I was on a radio show earlier today (the “Your Call” show on KALW, a local public radio station in San Francisco) when a man called in to tell how he had successfully built his own armed drone, using commercially available equipment. He…

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