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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



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RE: Importance of Gun Ownership
By TSS on 9/15/2012 8:38:20 AM , Rating: 1
And how's that 2nd amendment been working out for you so far?

I mean you cannot deny that with the 2nd amendment in place you've gotten into the situation you are in now. $16 trillion in debt, ~12% un employment, botched statistics that make it look more like 8%, bribed politicians etc etc.

Sorry but by now it's been pretty much proven that it's not the guns that protect you against the government. It's the will of the people. If the people don't want to use the guns, the guns ain't killin anybody. And as Katrina showed, when there's 5-6 army guys pointing their rifles at you, you will surrender your gun.

That's not to say it should be abolished. It's clearly there for a reason. But there is a definite difference between handguns and say, assault rifles. Or barret 50 cals.

If a situation arises where a handgun wouldn't be enough, you can be reasonably sure a civilian will always lose out. Be it a lack of training or manpower, but the extra firepower means very little.

And in case of revolution, an assault rifle for everybody won't work either. Might work on the front line, but it'll just make anybody else resisting a target. Guerillia warfare is the name of the game in enemy territory, which hardly ever uses heavy weapons (other then DIY explosives).

Besides do you really think you have a better chance of standing up to the US army then the taliban, or al-qaida, who have basically been at war for 30-40 years now, so know a thing or 2? What do you know? And even if you're a trained ex-navy seal or whatnot, what does your neighbour know? Because if they come for you, and your neighbour doesn't help out, not even a tank will save you. Isn't that the reason why the 2nd amendment exists? Because 1 man with a musket doesn't do alot but 10 might? You'll need 10 muskets for that, but also 10 people who will watch your back.


RE: Importance of Gun Ownership
By Reclaimer77 on 9/15/2012 8:58:24 AM , Rating: 1
Why does someone always bring up open warfare against the Government when the second Amendment comes up? Come on!

quote:
I mean you cannot deny that with the 2nd amendment in place you've gotten into the situation you are in now. $16 trillion in debt, ~12% un employment, botched statistics that make it look more like 8%, bribed politicians etc etc.


Gun rights = good economies and low unemployment? Huh? Okay skipping right by that tidbit of genius...

You realize there are places in the world where the people have NO rights? America doesn't get everything right, I agree. But I'll take it over the alternatives. Hey at least here it took over 200 years to get to this point. There have been places that start out from day 1 with the population pretty much screwed over by design.

The rest of your post is something from a comic book, we're not even going to get into that.

quote:
And how's that 2nd amendment been working out for you so far?


Pretty damn good I'll say. You might want to educate yourself and research statistics on how many crimes have been prevented, homes protected, and lives saved due to gun ownership. I guarantee you they far outweigh the attention-grabbing shootings you hear on the news.


RE: Importance of Gun Ownership
By Ringold on 9/15/2012 1:24:44 PM , Rating: 2
Hurricane Katrina actually proved quite the opposite. The criminals tended to be going around in roaming gangs looting, in many reported cases slaughtering whole families holed up in their home. Unarmed families.

Hurricane Katrina is the perfect case where gun ownership is a good idea; New Orleans law enforcement fell apart so badly, a lot of them turned coward and went AWOL. The unarmed were cows waiting to be milked by the first thug that found them. The armed had less to fear, security was in their own hands.


RE: Importance of Gun Ownership
By JediJeb on 9/15/2012 10:16:19 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
That's not to say it should be abolished. It's clearly there for a reason. But there is a definite difference between handguns and say, assault rifles. Or barret 50 cals.


The difference most people don't know is that handguns are probably more practical, accurate and destructive in the hands of regular people than "assault rifles" and a Barret 50 would be. I could more easily place 15 rounds in a bullseye with my handgun than when trying to do it with an assault rifle. Assault rifles are nothing more than a bogie man that gets hauled out by anti gun groups to try to make guns sound unacceptable for the public. A true assault rifle like those made for NATO by HK sell for thousands of dollars even when only semi automatic. Not many normal people will be able to afford those. The guns used in most crimes are cheap handguns bought in pawn shops or stolen.

quote:
Besides do you really think you have a better chance of standing up to the US army then the taliban, or al-qaida, who have basically been at war for 30-40 years now, so know a thing or 2? What do you know? And even if you're a trained ex-navy seal or whatnot, what does your neighbour know? Because if they come for you, and your neighbour doesn't help out, not even a tank will save you. Isn't that the reason why the 2nd amendment exists? Because 1 man with a musket doesn't do alot but 10 might? You'll need 10 muskets for that, but also 10 people who will watch your back.


I would imagine if the time comes that average people are ready to rise up against the government, then times will be bad enough that there is going to be much dissension within the military too and it will not be only citizens on the rebel side of things, the Civil War is proof of that, and other civil wars across the world.


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