Drones Strip Privacy

Goodbye, Privacy Rights

Written by Brittany Stepniak
Posted May 15, 2013

Are you ready for thousands of remote, unmanned flying vehicles roaming the skies above our once free country?

This is one view of the future that may come to fruition if law enforcement agencies and government bodies across the country get their way.

Drones – unmanned flying vehicles that can be controlled remotely – are already being used by law enforcement agencies. The appeal to many of these agencies is the fact that drones are much smaller, cheaper, and easier to use than helicopters or planes.

Currently, any such agency that wants to use drones is required to obtain a permit from the FAA. Additionally, the people who actually control the remote operation must be licensed by the FAA to actually fly the vehicles.

Privacy Issues Raised By Drones

If the idea of as many as 30,000 drones across the U.S. in the not too distant future has you concerned, you are certainly not alone. These technological marvels raise a number of privacy issues. Since these vehicles are designed to fly and take crystal clear photos and images of whatever is in their path, this could essentially be seen as a search without a warrant.

Not only are drones technically capable of conducting warrant-less searches, they can also be equipped with a number of other tools. This could include microphones capable of “listening in” and recording private conversations between ordinary people (at least you thought that discussion was private!). They could have infrared devices attached and even weapons. The Predator drone has been used overseas for several years already in combat situations.

Another type of privacy concern revolves around what should continue to remain private. For example, if a drone flies over private property and takes high resolution photos, should this be considered trespassing? Would it be any different if the drone flight was conducted by another private citizen?

Of course, there are a number of helpful uses for drones, such as conducting searches for missing kids or photographing disaster situations to get a better of idea of what rescue workers might be facing.

Nevertheless, most people would agree that just having any government agency being allowed to do whatever they want with drones is a situation ripe for abuse. Clearly, the privacy laws currently on the books need to be re-examined in light of the continued development of technology.

Already Being Abused

Despite the fact that drones currently require FAA approval, there are a number of law enforcement agencies already using these unmanned vehicles. This means that it's possible a number of people have had their photos taken without their knowledge. What actually happens to the data collected by the drones? Will our own police forces soon have a file on everyone – even average, law-abiding citizens?

Also consider the fact that any teenager could go out and buy a model aircraft to use as a sort of ‘homemade’ drone. Equip it with a GPS tracking device and a high resolution camera, and he is ready to do his own spying.

It should be mentioned that this type of abuse is currently completely unregulated. Most current laws and regulations (what little there are) are aimed primarily at government and commercial use.

The End of Privacy

With vehicles such as drones patrolling the skies, it is realistically possible that average U.S. citizens will see their rights to privacy eroded to the point of ending for all practical purposes. There could soon be enough drones in the sky to watch every man, woman, and child around the clock. The more cynical among us might even say that this is the ultimate goal of those controlling the government.

In this new world, where tens of thousands of unmanned vehicles patrol the sky above, everyone will be treated as a criminal. Law enforcement agencies will be free to conduct warrant-less searches at will. The harassment of private citizens could even become commonplace.

Most people think that right now they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. No longer. What happens when drones are fitted with high-powered microphones capable of capturing every conversation within hundreds of feet?

Remember some police forces cracking down violently on the Occupy movement? This could have been even more devastating if they had drones equipped with weapons. This type of technology just seems to invite those in power to abuse it.

It has been demonstrated time and time again that strong rules and regulations must be in place in order to stop or limit abuse of power. Even then, the effectiveness of laws can only go so far.

Anti-Drone Legislation

Despite the bad news regarding drones, there are reasons for hope. More people are waking up to the real and present dangers that this technology poses. Currently, lawmakers in at least 29 different states are considering legislation in regards to drone use.

A Pennsylvania Senator is about to file a bill that will propose to halt the use of drones by state and local governments and law enforcement agencies for at least 2 years.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has also signed legislation limiting the use of drone vehicles in the state of Florida and requiring warrants for drone surveillance by law enforcement agencies. This is similar to an earlier law passed in Idaho that also requires warrants. The Florida legislation does contains an exemption for the use of drones in combating terrorism.

This is also an issue that appears to be uniting a wide spectrum of Americans. Groups such as the ACLU are opposed to the widespread use of drones, as are conservative Republican lawmakers. There are even a number of Democrats in both the House and Senate (as well as those in various levels of state government) that oppose the unregulated use of drone technology.

The ACLU has even published a series of broad regulations, listed here, that it would like to see enacted, including usage limitations, data collection guidelines, policy-making control, and the complete restriction of arming these vehicles.

If this is an issue of concern to you, take action. Consider contacting your state lawmakers, Congressmen, and Senators. Let them know how you feel, and make it clear that any further use of these vehicles is an assault against the privacy of U.S. citizens everywhere.

Insist on strong regulations and stiff legal and criminal penalties for violations. If enough of us raise our voices, the legislatures will have to take action.

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