Bills would require warrants for domestic drone surveillance

Companion bills in the House and Senate aim to clamp down on the potential use of unmanned aerial vehicles for domestic surveillance by requiring law enforcement agencies to first get a warrant in most cases.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) this week introduced the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act of 2012, which had already been introduced in the House by Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.)

In announcing his support for the bill, Paul compared UAV surveillance to other information-gathering methods used by law enforcement, contending that a warrant should be required under Fourth Amendment protections.


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“Americans going about their everyday lives should not be treated like criminals or terrorists and have their rights infringed upon by military tactics," he said.

His bill would allow exceptions in three scenarios: Border patrol, instances when there is a high risk of terrorist attack, and when law enforcement officials have a “reasonable suspicion” of "imminent danger to life."

UAV technology, developed by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, is being increasingly deployed by civilian agencies. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have used drones to monitor hurricanes, measure sea ice and conduct marine mammal surveys. The U.S. Geological Survey has used them to track threatened waterfowl, and the Interior Department is considering using drones to check on dam safety.

But surveillance could be the most common use for drones, with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies putting them in the air. The military also expects to be using drones for training at bases around the country. Some estimates say that 30,000 domestic drones could be in use by the next decade.

Congress passed a law earlier this year to open domestic airspace to UAVs for civilian, scientific and public safety uses. The Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to have regulations in place by 2015.

The possibility of all those UAVs filling the skies has raised some concerns about safety — a fear increased after a Navy drone crashed recently in Maryland — and privacy. The implications of UAV surveillance have drawn objections from both sides of the political landscape.

A new poll by Monmouth University found that a majority of Americans support using drones for border patrol, search-and-rescue missions and tracking down criminals, but oppose such uses as issuing speeding tickets.

UAVs will undoubtedly be used domestically; the question could be the circumstances under which they are used. These bills, if they move through Congress, could start the process of setting the parameters.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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Reader Comments

Tue, Jun 19, 2012 earth

What is wrong with our Citizens! We all have more to fear from the government than criminals.
The problem lies not with the Citizens but with the Ballot. As there is no “none of the above” the citizen is frequently reduced to selecting between the lesser of two scoundrels. One of which is going to take high office.
Alternatively, we could require that one is not considered “representative” of the people unless at least 50% of all registered voters actually vote for the person. (in contrast to 50% of those insufficiently disgusted to not vote, voting for someone) .
I would prefer a combination of the two. Though one may need to fine registered voters that don’t vote (only acceptable with a “none of the above” on the ballot).

Tue, Jun 19, 2012

Since I know first hand of a police officer using his power and his fellow officers to do surveillance on his wife this just opens a new way to abuse police power.

Tue, Jun 19, 2012

What is wrong with our Citizens! We all have more to fear from the government than criminals.

Sun, Jun 17, 2012 Rwolf

Next: Police Drones—Recording Conversations In Your Home & Business To Forfeit Property? Police are salivating at the prospect of having drones to spy on lawful citizens. Congress approved 30,000 drones in U.S. Skies. That amounts to 600 drones for every state. It is problematic local police will want to use drones to record without warrants, personal conversations inside Americans’ homes and businesses: Consider the House just passed CISPA the recent Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. If passed by the Senate, CISPA will allow—the military and NSA spy agency (warrant-less spying) on Americans’ private Internet electronic Communications using so-called (Government certified self-protected cyber entities) and Elements that may share with NSA your private Internet activity, e.g. emails, faxes, phone calls and confidential transmitted files they believe (might) relate to a cyber threat or crime (circumventing the Fourth Amendment) with full immunity from lawsuits if done in good faith. CISPA does not clearly define what is an Element; or Self-protected Cyber Entity—that could broadly mean anything, e.g. a private computer, local or national network, website, an online service. Despite some U.S. cities and counties banning or restricting police using drones to invade citizens’ privacy, local police have a strong financial incentive to call in Federal Drones, (Civil Asset Forfeiture Sharing) that can result from drone surveillance). Should (no-warrant drone surveillance evidence) be allowed in courts—circumventing the Fourth Amendment, for example (drones’ recording conversations in private homes and businesses) expect federal and local police civil asset property forfeitures to escalate. Civil asset forfeiture requires only a preponderance of civil evidence for federal government to forfeit property, little more than hearsay: any conversation picked up by a drone inside a home or business, police can take out of context to initiate arrests; or civil asset forfeiture to confiscate a home/business and other assets. Local police now circumvent state laws that require someone be convicted before police can civilly forfeit their property—by turning their investigation over to a Federal Government Agency that can rebate to the referring local police department 80% of assets forfeited. Federal Government is not required to charge anyone with a crime to forfeit property. There are more than 350 laws and violations that can subject property to government asset forfeiture that have nothing to do with illegal drugs.

Fri, Jun 15, 2012 earth

No The Corbett Report LOL:
A better journalist than most doing it "for real". But Thanks "Defender of the Free World". Attacking me instead of my arguments is an endorsement of the strength of my arguments. The two countries spying on the US the most are Israel and France. If you have had an anti-espionage briefing lately you would know that.

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