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.

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...

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 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…

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…

New Eyes in the Sky: Protecting Privacy from Domestic Drone Surveillance

New Eyes in the Sky: Protecting Privacy from Domestic Drone Surveillance

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:32am

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – UAV’s or “drones” as they are called – are on the way. Just this week the Los Angeles Times reported that Customs and Border Patrol agency has been lending their Predator drones to law enforcement…

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…

Ban on Arming Domestic Drones: Let’s Draw a Line in the Sand

Ban on Arming Domestic Drones: Let’s Draw a Line in the Sand

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 7:44am

Last week Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and the House of Representatives drew an important line in the sand. Holt offered an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill to bar any DHS funding for “the purchase, operation, or…

Report Details Government’s Ability to Analyze Massive Aerial Surveillance Video Streams

Report Details Government’s Ability to Analyze Massive Aerial Surveillance Video Streams

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:15am

Yesterday I wrote about Dayton Ohio’s plan for an aerial surveillance system similar to the “nightmare scenario” ARGUS wide-area surveillance technology. Actually, ARGUS is just the most advanced of a number of such “persistent wide-area surveillance”…

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.”

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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