originally posted at the Washington State TAC
There are plenty of obvious concerns about the use of domestic drones. Their use by law enforcement is expanding rapidly, and it’s only normal to be concerned about privacy laws. Even if you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place, with drones the size of hummingbirds, will you have a reasonable expectation of privacy on your own property, or even through your own windows? In the long run, what will constitute the need for surveillance? In Washington state it could be a nice new way to fine litterers.
Let’s not forget the original intent of this technology. Drones are used by our military to spy on, and to kill our enemies. Or at least, those we perceive to be our enemies, whether guilt has been proven or not, and with a callous disregard for collateral damage.
While it could be argued that some use of surveillance drones is reasonable; for example, border patrol or missing persons cases, how soon does it become difficult to draw the line? Are we there already?
Just this week members of Congress accused the EPA of using drones to conduct surveillance flights over Iowa and Nebraska farms. Though they were assured by the EPA that they are using only manned aircraft to check for violations of federal clean water laws, it does make one wonder about the right of the EPA to conduct this type of surveillance in the first place. Not to mention the fact that even Congress doesn’t know what the EPA is doing.
We have many large government agencies like this. The EPA might not actually be using drones to monitor your compliance with federal laws now, but how long until they are? With domestic drones getting smaller and easier to come by, it seems that it is only a matter of time. And if the EPA now, then who next? The FDA? It would be a lot easier for them to keep tabs on who you are selling your raw milk to, if they could only monitor everyone who comes and goes from your property.
Then there is the fact that law enforcement is already talking about arming drones with rubber bullets. Of course this is mainly for things like crowd control. But At some point do you look up at the drone flying over head and feel a sudden solidarity with citizens in Islamabad, wondering; am I next? Perhaps the idea seems a little far fetched now, but not so very long ago, the idea of drones surveying your neighborhood was also far fetched.
Welcome to our new reality.
James Madison once warned us that “the means of defense against foreign danger have always been the instruments of tyranny at home.”
Is doesn’t seem like wisdom to treat our government, who can so easily brush off the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, as if they are somehow different people when it comes to surveillance here at home. We need to be vigilant about how this technology is used.
H.R. 5925, The Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, was recently introduced by Rep. Austin Scott, R-GA, “To protect individual privacy against unwarranted governmental intrusion through the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles commonly called drones, and for other purposes.” The text of the bill is not available yet, but it would require the government to obtain warrants for surveillance purposes.The bill is currently bound up in judicial committee where many bills go – never to be heard from again. It’s a good start though, and a reminder that we can enact our own surveillance regulation in our own states. In the meantime, we should be asking our Congress men and women to support this kind of legislation that would protect our 4th amendment rights.