Drone strikes: Groups continue fight against coming surveillance state
By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
Drones soon will pervade the lives of all Americans.
Police will use them for surveillance,People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants to track poachers with them, and farmers want the aerial vehicles to efficiently measure crop growth.
They come in all shapes and sizes, from the ominous looking Predator drones used in the sky of Pakistan to the minuscule mosquito drones that come in handy for stealthy surveillance of urban areas.
It’s a brave new world.
Yet, some are uncomfortable with the reality drones will bring: Constant surveillance from the sky. Earlier this year, two groups often at odds, the American Civil Liberties Union and The Rutherford Institute, decided to strike preemptively against privacy invasions.
Worried that aggressive lawmen might use the unmanned aerial vehicles to snoop on unassuming Americans, the two groups developed battle plans to fight back against the creep of the surveillance state.
The ACLU, a formidable force in American politics, asked that state lawmakers nationwide simply require police obtain a warrant before using a drone to conduct a search.
The Virginia-based Rutherford Institute, on the other hand, wanted legislators to take it a step further and ban information grabbed by drones from entering into any court proceedings.
“That won’t work,” Rutherford president John D. Whitehead, said of the ACLU’s warrant push. “If they’d stick to what we’ve written, it’d be really strong.”
In early January, Rutherford submitted model legislation to lawmakers in all 50 states. Some states entertained the bills, some didn’t. Whitehead doesn’t know exactly how many states have given his model bill a hearing.
The ACLU, on the other hand, says that 35 states have considered drone bills this year and 30 still have legislation pending before lawmakers. Most of the bills require the probable-cause warrant for drone use by law enforcement, but a handful ban drone weaponization.
Two states, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, are pursuing legislation that would prevent police from identifying anyone or anything not related to the warrant.
Idaho is the only state that has finalized a drone protection bill. The measure awaits Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s signature.
Allie Bohm, a national policy strategist with the ACLU, told Watchdog.org in an email Monday that the drone industry has tried to construct roadblocks to kill the bills nationwide.
As the Federal Aviation Administration prepares to select six sites across the country where it can test drone airspace integration, Bohm said, some industry officials worry that the laws, if imposed, would hurt a certain state’s chances of winning designation from the federal agency.
“It’s something that the agency has already taken into account and is willing to make accommodations to address,” she wrote. “Moreover, most of the bills being considered apply to law enforcement, not to private research and development.”
The ACLU recognizes drones will add value to society. After all, how economical would it be to fly a drone over a mountain to search for a missing hiker?
Still, Bohm said the ACLU wants to prevent the U.S. from becoming a surveillance state by restricting drone use. Police can use drones for investigations, she said, but not for mass surveillance.
Whitehead said the ACLU holds too much faith in law enforcement.
“Their model legislation is awful,” he criticized. He said “if people understood how rapidly drone technology will advance,” more people, including lawmakers, would side with the Rutherford model legislation.
“They’re going to get very sophisticated,” he said of the drones. “Privacy is going out the window.”
Contact Dustin Hurst at Dustin@Watchdog.org or @DustinHurst via Twitter.
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