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.

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 bill, while Montana has three bills, and hearings have already been held there as well.
Is All (Drone) Politics Local?

Is All (Drone) Politics Local?

By Matthew Cagle, Volunteer Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 4:15pm

The next time a cop sees a picture of you, that picture may not have been taken by a person at all. Unmanned flying drones can allow their operators to remotely...

Drones: Useful Potential vs. the Dark Side

Drones: Useful Potential vs. the Dark Side

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:36am

One of the questions I’ve been asked about my post last week on Milo Danger and his DIY paintball-armed drone is: what does that mean for privacy?

Part of the answer is that the paintball drone is a reminder that drones are a generative…

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…

FAA Plans to Carry Out Privacy Tests in Six Drone “Test Zones”

FAA Plans to Carry Out Privacy Tests in Six Drone “Test Zones”

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:24am

The FAA indicates that it plans to carry out privacy tests of drone technology as part of a “test site” program mandated by Congress, the agency revealed in a response to two lawmakers seeking information about drone privacy. Reps. Edward…

Drone Regulations, Do Not Track, Border X-Rays, and Being Borked (Friday Links Roundup)

Drone Regulations, Do Not Track, Border X-Rays, and Being Borked (Friday Links Roundup)

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:00pm

In September I wrote about how policymakers often act on privacy issues only when they themselves feel their privacy personally threatened—for example when Robert Bork’s video rental records were obtained by a reporter. Now Peter Maass,…

ACLU Testifies as Congress Takes on Domestic Drones

ACLU Testifies as Congress Takes on Domestic Drones

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:44pm

The ACLU testified before a House field forum examining drone technology and the Fourth Amendment at Rice University called by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.). Drones have gotten a lot of attention lately – U.S. law enforcement agencies are eager to get their hands on them while civil libertarians are concerned about the potential threat to privacy.

ACLU Asking the Federal Government How It’s Using Drones Inside the U.S.

ACLU Asking the Federal Government How It’s Using Drones Inside the U.S.

By Scott Bulua & Stephen Elkind, NYU School of Law ACLU Technology Law & Policy Clinic at 9:56am

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a drone armed with an arsenal of video surveillance technology!

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.

Heritage Foundation Weighs in On Domestic-Drone Policy Issues

Heritage Foundation Weighs in On Domestic-Drone Policy Issues

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:13pm

The conservative Heritage Foundation has issued a report on “Drones in U.S. Airspace: Principles for Governance” with proposals for how domestic drones ought to be regulated. The authors agree with much of what my co-author Catherine Crump…

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