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.

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.

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…

Drones: The Nightmare Scenario

Drones: The Nightmare Scenario

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:05pm

In our drones report, we discuss the coming onslaught of domestic drones and the weak state of the privacy laws that should protect us, and we outline our recommendations for protections that Congress and local governments should put in place.

But…

New Documents Reveal U.S. Marshals’ Drones Experiment, Underscoring Need for Government Transparency

New Documents Reveal U.S. Marshals’ Drones Experiment, Underscoring Need for Government Transparency

By Naomi Gilens, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 8:12am

The use of surveillance drones is growing rapidly in the United States...

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…

Civil Liberties in the Digital Age: Weekly Highlights (5/11/2012)

Civil Liberties in the Digital Age: Weekly Highlights (5/11/2012)

By Anna Salem, ACLU of Northern California at 2:52pm

In the digital age that we live in today, we are constantly exposing our personal information online. From using cell phones and GPS devices to online shopping and sending e-mail, the things we do and say online leave behind ever-growing trails of…

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…

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”…

Eight Factors That Will Shape How America Adapts to Drones

Eight Factors That Will Shape How America Adapts to Drones

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:25pm

How domestic drones will affect our privacy depends on how the technology is used and deployed. And that depends on a lot of factors. Technologies never exist in isolation—their impact on society is always the result of interactions between the technology's…

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…

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