Print 98 comment(s) - last by headbox.. on Sep 20 at 3:25 PM

Three bills look to limit use amid concerns that government is prepping for massive spy drone rollout

"Every single day / And every word you say / Every game you play, every night you stay / I'll be watching you
Oh, can't you see / You belong to me?

...that famous line of Sting and the Police perhaps best summarizes the warning delivered in a report released last week by the Congressional Research Service that suggests the growing army of drones flying over the U.S. airspace could be used to continuously monitor U.S. citizens.

I. Plans for Domestic Drone Spying Escalate 

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in a recent report that it expects 30,000 commercial and government drones to be flying over the U.S. airspace within 20 years.  The drones will be cheap, will be able to stay aloft continuously, and can even be as small as an insect (so-called "nano-drones").  All of that makes the perfect vehicle for something many great writers and philosophers have long feared -- ubiquitous, uninterrupted government surveillance.

While it sounds like a paranoid flight of fantasy, that's precisely the issue that was being discussed in last week's report.  It comments, "In the near future, law enforcement organizations might seek to outfit drones with facial recognition or soft biometric recognition, which can recognize and track individuals based on attributes such as height, age, gender and skin color."

Reaper drones
Reaper drones are currently being used over U.S. airspace. [Image Source: The Real Revo]

Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) is among the major defense contractors field testing a model which could be used to ubiquitously spy on citizens of both America and foreign nations -- a flyer named "Stalker".  Stalker drones get a charge from ground-based lasers, allowing them to continuously stay aloft, surveying individuals 24-7 in an urban landscape.  Solar panels have also been explored as a way of keeping drones aloft.

Stalker Drone
The Stalker Drone uses periodic laser recharges to stay aloft for continuous surveillance.
[Image Source: LaserMotive]

Some companies are examining the possibility of deploying armed drones (war drones) over U.S. soil to provide intelligence and law enforcement agencies a weapon in the sky to use against "criminals".

III. Warrantless Monitoring?

A key question is whether such spying would be legal without warrant, an allowance that could be tantamout to leaving the door open to abuse.

Based on current U.S. court precedent, the report hypothesizes that courts would deem nano-drone visual or heat-image surveillance of U.S. citizens inside their homes to be illegal.  However, it is less clear whether drones would be disallowed to stalk Americans in their backyards, swimming pools, deck, or porch.  And intelligence agencies would likely be able to freely spy on people in public locations.

Obama Big Brother
President Barack Obama has supported a variety of warrantless spying measures on U.S. citizens, including wireless phonetaps. Republican presidential Mitt Romney has also supported warrantless spying efforts.  [Image Source: Fits News]

But the researchers also note that the drones' ability to stay in the air indefinitely or for extended periods of time (or even days), could sway courts to deem warrantless drone monitoring of Americans to be a Fourth Amendment violation.  Comments the report:
This capability may sway a court’s determination of whether certain types of warrant-less drone surveillance are compatible with the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The important phrasing there is "unreasonable searches", which many would argue would include continuous drone surveillance.

III. Bills on the Table, Question of Citizens Shooting Down Drones Looms

The good news is that there are several proposals floating around Congress to block using drones to spy on Americans without warrant.  The bad news is that past efforts to limit warrantless drone use have been largely struck down, and that the current efforts do not necessarily ban all kinds of warrantless use.

According to the summary by The Hill, three measures are currently on the table, all penned by Republicans in Congress.

One of the measures is very specific, seeking to narrow the scope of a specific agency's use of drone monitoring.  

Entitled the Farmers Privacy Act (H.R. 5961), this measure is written by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Virg.).  The bill looks to prevent the U.S. Environmental Agency for using drones to hunt for regulatory violations -- particularly with farms.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had proposed a similar, but less strict prohibition which would have banned EPA drone use if it was more expensive than traditional inspections.  The amendment to the "farm bill" (The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240)) was struck down.

The other two bills would be more ubiquitous.  The Preserving American Privacy Act would strictly limit surveillance of U.S. citizens by drones to only be allowed with warrant in the investigation of felonies.  That bill is written by Rep. Ted Poe's (R-Texas).  A second bill by Rep. Austin Scott (R-Georgia) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), dubbed the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, would require police departments to obtain a warrant, in most cases, before using drones.  The Sen. Paul version is stricter, in that it contains an extra provision to prevent warrantless evidence from being used against Americans in a court of law.

U.S. police trooper
Several bills are looking to restrict police use of drones. [Image Source: Reuters]

It is unclear if any of these measures will pass.

One aspect of the measure not discussed by the report is what the legal rammifications would be of a legally armed U.S. citizens shooting down or hacking a drone that was spying on them or a nearby neighbor.  As unlikely as that scenario sounds, it could happen if use soars.

It can be safely presumed that the responsible agency would try to charge the citizen for destroying federal property, obstruction of justice, or other similar charges.  The real question is what the courts would make of such a case.

Sources: FAS, CBO

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Property laws???
By croc on 9/14/2012 6:28:11 PM , Rating: 2
Why, again, does one need a new law to cover shooting down drones? What happens currently if you shoot out the tires on a police car? Or the lens of a speed camera?

And why, again, does anyone need a .50 calibre sniper rifle for self-protection?

Just askin', we Aussies got curious minds...

RE: Property laws???
By Beenthere on 9/14/2012 6:48:02 PM , Rating: 1
Yup, some folks don't get it. They think because they don't like something they can just destroy it or "take matters into their own hands". This explains a lot of the problems in society today.

After a few clowns who shoot down drones get heavily fined and go to prison for a few years, then maybe they'll have a better understanding of why we have laws in society.

As we see with some comments here, some folks are using bad drugs these days... when they can make a quantum leap from drones to guns being necessary to protect the citizens from their government.

RE: Property laws???
By Ringold on 9/14/2012 9:35:13 PM , Rating: 2
I can't imagine it being legal or even remotely wise in most situations; taking pot-shots from the back yard of your average suburban home would count in most places as reckless discharge.

But say you live further out, got several acres. Drone buzzing around overhead. Didn't ask your permission you fly over your property. Didn't announce itself. Isn't stating any reason. Just an unblinking, unwarranted stare, invading the expectation of privacy the constitution says we have in this country.

In that situation, it's a decent legal question as to why it'd be illegal -- though I suspect it is, I think I recall the FAA doing something about farmers taking pot shots at crop dusters and the like in the past that was disrupting their animals. Might not be, though.

There may be liability issues to keep in mind, too; what if a drone is hit, tries to limp home, and crashes in to someone/something on the way? Your bullet caused it, so I suspect that'd make the shooter liable.

But it's also a form of civil disobedience. You'd rather bend over, smile, and thank the government for pounding your privacy, and ask meekly for a welfare reach-around.

RE: Property laws???
By Uncle on 9/14/2012 9:12:09 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, More important. How do the Americans like their taxes being spent in this way. I'd be pissed off, every year I pay my taxes, knowing the government is spying on me like I'm a criminal ready to go into action. Theirs better targets to shoot your guns at then drones if thats your plan of action.

RE: Property laws???
By madtruths on 9/15/2012 12:57:00 AM , Rating: 2
We want .50s for a couple of reasons. Mainly because they are awesome, fun to shoot, long range target practice, and most importantly, because we can, and it is our right to own one. People should understand that owning firearms is not always about need. Beyond protection, it is a hobby.

Oh and just for the hell of it look up crime statistics, I think you will find .22s are used in more murders than most other calibers, at least that was the case in L.A. last I checked.

RE: Property laws???
By Reclaimer77 on 9/15/2012 9:13:03 AM , Rating: 1
Why does someone "need" a Porsche? Why do we "need" a swimming pool in our backyard?

And yeah, you Aussies have some fascist gun laws. But I have a suspicion that there are places in Australia where guns ownership is pretty damn common.

What happens currently if you shoot out the tires on a police car?

You to go jail because you are endangering the life of the officer in the car. Also that's the property of someone else.

Unnamed Drones hovering over private land is a different issue. The Government seems to think the Constitution doesn't cover things in the sky under the expectation of privacy clause. In fact they think they OWN the sky.

I'm not saying I would shoot at one. I'm not even saying you should try. But if thousands of Americans rose up and did so, I would love it. At some point this path to tyranny needs to be stopped. A symbolic and harmless display of anger and the desire to be free on your own land? Not a problem with me.

Honestly, how can anyone support military grade drones being used on American soil against it's own citizens? Something is just SO clearly not right about that.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

Copyright 2015 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki