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“There’s been a lot of energy by lawmakers,” Bohm stressed.
Passage of these laws might come down to differing language of the Driscoll and Negron bills. Bohm and the ACLU, along with Epstein, agree that law enforcement officials should obtain judge-approved search warrants before deploying drones for criminal investigations, as allowed in Negron’s bill.
“That’s how the world of law enforcement works,” Epstein said. “We understand that.”
Bohm echoed that thought.
“I think we’re putting safeguards in place, but we’re not taking away anything law enforcement already has,” she said.
“Requiring a warrant is incredibly stupid,” barked Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute. “It won’t work.”
Drones buzzing quietly overhead, Whitehead warned, will collect loads of information, including license plate numbers, wi-fi data and secret passwords. Equipped with right components, they’ll peak through walls, which he believes bypasses the need for warrants.
Whitehead spent the past two years researching drones, their past, present and, most importantly,their future. During his study, he authored model legislation that he sent to the 50 state legislatures. He said he’s very serious about restraining the surveillance state, though he knows it cannot be fully barred.
“There will be drones everywhere,” he said. “There’s too much money to be made.”
Analysts project the drone industry, now worth $5.9 billion annually, will more than double to $11.3 billion by 2020. Whitehead envisions domestic drones equipped with everything from high-power cameras with facial recognition technology to rubber bullets and sound cannons to break up political rallies or assemblies.
Whitehead quickly dismissed the idea that states can limit drone use, other than bar from court evidence gathered by the aerial vehicles. While other parties in this nationwide debate about the proper role of drones in civil society seek compromise, Whitehead will not. He won’t surrender ground on the warrant issue.
“Warrants are incredibly easy to get,” he scoffed. “The judges go along with the police.”
The only viable path to limiting drones in America, Whitehead said, is to keep their findings out of court.
A Hopeful Industry
As governments across the land embrace Big Brother and the perpetual surveillance state, aviation-related businesses prepare for a profitable era, but also the challenges inherent to bringing such a potentially dangerous product to market.