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.

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.”
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.

Experts Discuss Surveillance Society at Domestic Drones Hearing

Experts Discuss Surveillance Society at Domestic Drones Hearing

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:14pm

An important Congressional subcommittee held a hearing today on domestic drone use. Members and witnesses didn't just rehash familiar concerns; they dug deeper to explore how advanced surveillance technology has become, and the real dangers of the…

Three Reasons the Drone Industry Should Support Privacy Protections

Three Reasons the Drone Industry Should Support Privacy Protections

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:31am

As I mentioned recently, lobbying by Boeing contributed to the defeat (for now) of drone privacy legislation in Washington state. In fact, we are starting to see a few of the many legislative proposals for regulating drones die in state legislatures…

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…

CBP Using Its Authorization for Border Use Of Drones as Wedge For Nationwide Use

CBP Using Its Authorization for Border Use Of Drones as Wedge For Nationwide Use

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:51pm

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has released a very valuable set of documents it obtained via FOIA from Customs & Border Protection (CBP) on that agency’s use of drones. EFF found that CPB has greatly increased the number of missions that it has flown—inside the border region—on behalf of other state, local and federal agencies. The EFF’s Jennifer Lynch summarizes what they found nicely in this blog post.

All the public discussion around the CBP’s use of drones has centered around their use on the border. As far as I know, CBP’s drone program was intended and authorized by Congress for the purpose of patrolling the nation’s borders. It was not intended to be a general law enforcement drone “lending library,” in which Predator drones (which are quite unlike the small UAVs that police departments around the country are beginning to acquire and deploy) are used for all manner of purposes across the country. Many of those purposes are totally unobjectionable, but if such a system is to be created, it should be only following a full, open, and democratic discussion, and (as Lynch points out) with a strong set of privacy policies. It should certainly not be created in secret by a single federal agency.

Even Amidst a Host of Congressional Priorities, Drones Makes the Cut

Even Amidst a Host of Congressional Priorities, Drones Makes the Cut

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:00am

While Congress has been considering the idea of regulating domestic drone use for some time, yesterday kicked off the debate in earnest when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on "The Future of Drones in America:…

Five Reasons Why the Courts Aren’t Enough to Ensure Drone Privacy

Five Reasons Why the Courts Aren’t Enough to Ensure Drone Privacy

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:07pm

Yesterday the drone regulation bill in the Washington state legislature died, having failed to meet the cutoff date for moving to the House floor. Although our lobbyist there thought the bill would have passed both houses had the Democratic leadership…

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…

Florida Poised to Become First State to Regulate Surveillance Drones

Florida Poised to Become First State to Regulate Surveillance Drones

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:23pm

State legislatures around the country are gearing up to take action on domestic surveillance drones. Maine has a bill introduced, as do Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas. In Virginia a hearing has already been held on a…

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