Drones in America

freeimage-2752059-web‘Look up in the sky! Smile! You’re now on camera.’ Nowhere in the world is privacy as under assault as it is in America, the one country with a written governing document – The U.S. Constitution – that specifically gives us our constitutional protection to privacy and prohibits our government from denying us from it. The U.S. government and law enforcement are greatly expanding its use of domestic drones for surveillance Americans cannot go anywhere anymore to simply function in society – to go to the mall, buy groceries or visit friends, for instance – without being under some kind of surveillance in every single moment. Drones present a unique threat to privacy, which causes a growing concern of “pervasive surveillance” from the public.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) made headlines for their use by the military and the CIA. They are largely limited to military airspace and the U.S. borders, along with the use in special circumstances, such as reconnaissance over forest fires. However, they have given rise to fears of the potential for abuse from government and law enforcement surveillance, and it evoked unusual discomfort in the public consciousness. UAVs are practically invisible at altitudes where a manned aircraft could be seen with the naked eye, which presents the potential for intrusion of privacy far more pervasive than the flyover of a plane or helicopter. Surveillance drones equipped with sophisticated imaging technology has the ability to obtain detailed information of people, homes, terrain, and even small objects.

On November 7, 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released their first annual Roadmap plan to eventually integrate drones into U.S. airspace. It is nearly a hundred-page document to address specific technical and procedural principles intended to ensure safe design and operation of domestic drones by 2015. It is currently an early step for the FAA and the government predicts that by 2020, 30,000 of drones will take flight and patrol American airspace.

Privacy advocates are worried that there aren’t enough legal safeguards and rules in the report. In fact, it didn’t describe any specifics on Americans’ privacy. Although the issue of privacy is actually raised in the report, the FAA came under criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said the privacy rules were too short on specifics. It was less encompassing, while the FAA acknowledged that agency officials aren’t experts in that area, and largely reverted state and federal laws to provide safeguards when drones start flying at six test sites.

In yet-to-be determined locations, these test sites will focus on the unresolved issue around UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) deployment to protect civil liberties. The FAA recognizes that there will be debate and difference of opinion about whether the test sites will raise new privacy concerns, so they required operators to collect written plans for each drone’s use and retention of data, among other rules. Each of these sites will be required to come up with a privacy policy and make it public. However, these test site’s policies are not intended to predetermine the long-term policy and regulatory framework under which Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) would operate.

“The thought of government drones buzzing overhead and constantly monitoring the activities of law-abiding citizens runs contrary to the notion of what it means to live in a free society,” said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. It brings up privacy concerns that is shared across the political spectrum. Privacy is the increasingly present concern for the FAA when it comes to a drone-related issue. People are naturally concerned about information being collected without them ever knowing and without them being charged with a crime.

Cities, states, and now the federal government are telling us that they are watching us 24/7/365 to simply try to keep us safe, but the Constitution does not permit such broad, continuous surveillance. The current Fourth Amendment places minimal limitation on aerial surveillance and the Supreme Court has yet to come up with a framework to evaluate technology that is capable to monitor people and places. It is a blatant violation of our right to privacy, which is not allowable. There is no “except in cases of ensuring public safety” provision in the Fourth Amendment.

Imagine if the use of drones was to spy on us. In July 2013, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Robert Mueller has admitted for the first time that the FBI uses drones, unmanned aircraft, for domestic surveillance. The use of drones illegally by the government has exploded in recent years, and for reasons that have to do with “security” or “law enforcement” or under the guise of “protecting us.” These drones are being used by both state and federal governments to spy on Americans, as if tracking our mail and all electronic communications isn’t enough.

Drones raise the prospect of bringing surveillance to a whole new level. If sophisticated drones can track up to 65 targets across 65 square miles and law enforcement agencies and private detectives have already begun to use them, then paparazzi, criminals and stalkers could be next. Companies are already developing “paparazzi drones” in order to follow and photograph celebrities. This raises particular concerns about government use of drones, which make persistent surveillance cheap and enable law enforcement agencies to stare through windows and even walls that are used to represent private domains.

The domestic use of drones to spy on Americans clearly violates the Fourth Amendment and limits our rights to personal privacy. Allowing domestic drones to act as spies for the government is a complete violation of our basic right. While there are benefits to using drones to gather information for law enforcement and appropriate research purposes, it shouldn’t be used to gather private information on normal Americans. By infringing upon our rights and watching over our every move, the government is not going to protect us, but they will push us one more step closer to completely losing our Fourth Amendment rights. Collecting any sort of information from private activities is unlawful search and going too far to prevent crime from happening.


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