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.

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” systems in existence and development. They include Constant Hawk, Angel Fire, Kestrel (used on blimps in Afghanistan), and Gorgon Stare.
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...

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 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…

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.

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…

Police Chiefs Issue Recommendations on Drones; A Look At How They Measure Up

Police Chiefs Issue Recommendations on Drones; A Look At How They Measure Up

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:39am

The International Association of Chiefs of Police recently approved “Recommended Guidelines for the use of Unmanned Aircraft.”

The IACP is to be applauded for addressing this issue, and for issuing recommendations that are quite…

Amazon and Drones

Amazon and Drones

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 8:04am

Amazon attracted a lot of attention this weekend when, on “60 Minutes,” CEO Jeff Bezos announced a futuristic vision for the company: using drones to make deliveries within 30 minutes to homes in metropolitan areas.

The biggest import of…

Aerospace Group Issues Recommendations for State Drone Legislation

Aerospace Group Issues Recommendations for State Drone Legislation

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 12:49pm

Bills aimed at regulating domestic surveillance drones are sweeping the nation. We've been working on domestic drones since before the issue crossed legislators' radars, so, knowing their reach, we were hopeful when several leading state government…

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…

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