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.

photo of drone flying

A Look at the Privacy Policies For the FAA's Six Drone Test Sites

By Nathaniel J. Turner, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 1:24pm
Last month, an Australian woman sunbathing topless in her back yard was accidentally captured in a photograph by a drone snapping pictures for a real estate listing. The picture was placed in online ads and billboards before the mistake was caught. With the U.S. working on regulations for commercial drones, you might think that cases like this would be part of the conversation. But so far, both Congress and the FAA have passed the buck on creating privacy protections for domestic drones. Some of the little work that has been done on privacy protections has fallen to the FAA’s six drone test sites across the country.
Modification of image by Joe King via Flickr

Status of 2014 Domestic Drone Legislation in the States

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 10:32am

Updated 6/30/14

Since last year, surveillance drones have been the subject of fierce debate both among legislators and the public, giving rise to an impressive amount of legislation—proposed and enacted—to protect individuals’ privacy.


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:…

Crashed biplane

Drones, Accidents, and Secrecy

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:35pm

The Washington Post recently ran some amazing articles on the safety record of drones. The three-part series focuses on the more than 400 large U.S. military drones that have crashed overseas, domestic U.S. crashes of military drones inside and outside…

image of state privacy map

Interactive Map: Privacy in the States on Four Key Issues

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 10:50am

In the last few years, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of privacy battles being waged in state legislatures. Today we’re launching an interactive web map that shows the privacy laws in place across the country on four of those issues:

Domestic Drones

Unchecked Government Drones? Not Over My Backyard

By Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel at 3:23pm

This piece originally appeared in The Hill's Congress Blog.

On Thursday, The Federal Aviation Administration gave Amazon the green light to begin testing drones

While you aren’t likely to be getting your Amazon order delivered…

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…

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…

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