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

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...

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…

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.”

Extreme Traffic Enforcement

Extreme Traffic Enforcement

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:05pm

In a recent post I pointed out various ways that license plate recognition devices could be combined with other databases to invade privacy.

One obvious use for ALPR that I did not mention is speeding tickets. If you’ve gotten from point…

The First State Laws on Drones

The First State Laws on Drones

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 3:13pm

On Thursday, Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed into law the first bill in the nation protecting individuals from unfettered surveillance by unmanned aerial vehicles.

Virginia enacted the very first drones bill nationwide on April 3. Their bill…

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…

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…

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…

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