Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drones Over America: Science Fiction or Reality?

Unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life. Many Americans have heard of these aircraft, commonly called “drones,” because of their use overseas in places like Afghanistan and Yemen. But drones are coming to America, and protections must be put in place to guard our privacy.

As technology is quickly becoming cheaper and more powerful, and interest in deploying drones among police departments is increasing around the country, our privacy laws need to be strengthened in order to ensure that this new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with democratic values.

States like Idaho and Virginia have already passed legislation to limit the use of drones in their states; Florida and Montana are also considering statewide drone legislation. Will Wyoming be the next state to enshrine individual privacy protections against drone surveillance into its statutes? We certainly hope so.

The ACLU released a report which outlines a set of protections that would help protect Americans’ privacy in the coming world of domestic drones. The report recommends that drones should not be deployed unless there are grounds to believe that they will collect evidence on a specific crime. If a drone will intrude on reasonable privacy expectations, a warrant should be required. The report also calls for restrictions on retaining images of identifiable people, as well as an open process for developing policies on how drones will be used.

Routine aerial surveillance in American life would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States. 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 authorities.

>>Download<< the 2011 ACLU report Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft.