Protect Public Against Domestic Drone Spying, Says New York Times

Back in October, as I walked through Logan Airport I was entranced by a Parrot AR Quadrocopter drone hovering in front me in the concourse. It was being guided by a gift shop sales clerk using her iPhone. She showed me how it worked and I was particularly startled by the clarity of the video it was recording. I thought it would be great to use to take aerial video of my house, the woods around my cabin, my neighbors' houses .... whoa, I thought to myself. Video of my neighbors' houses, yards, and their activities? Maybe even peek inside their windows? No thanks.

As creepy as neighors drone spying on one another would be, allowing agents of the government do it is much worse.

In today's New York Times, the paper's editors worry about the misuse of domestic drones by police agencies to spy on the public. The editorial notes:

Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to quickly select six domestic sites to test the safety of drones, which can vary in size from remote-controlled planes as big as jetliners to camera-toting hoverers called Nano Hummingbirds that weigh 19 grams.

The drone go-ahead, signed in February by President Obama in the F.A.A. reauthorization law, envisions a $5 billion-plus industry of camera drones being used for all sorts of purposes from real estate advertising to crop dusting to environmental monitoring and police work.

Responding to growing concern as the public discovers drones are on the horizon, the agency recently and quite sensibly added the issue of citizens’ privacy to its agenda. Setting regulations under the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unlawful search is of the utmost importance...

The idea of watchful drones buzzing overhead like Orwellian gnats may seem far-fetched to some. But Congress, in its enthusiasm for a new industry, should guarantee the strongest protection of privacy under what promises to be a galaxy of new eyes in the sky.

What might "strongest protection of privacy" look like? The American Civil Liberties Union argues that legislation should include:

USAGE LIMITS: Drones should be deployed by law enforcement only with a warrant, in an emergency, or when there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific criminal act.

DATA RETENTION: Images should be retained only when there is reasonable suspicion that they contain evidence of a crime or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or trial.

POLICY: Usage policy on domestic drones should be decided by the public’s representatives, not by police departments, and the policies should be clear, written, and open to the public.

ABUSE PREVENTION & ACCOUNTABILITY: Use of domestic drones should be subject to open audits and proper oversight to prevent misuse.

: Domestic drones should not be equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons.

Go here to view Reason's extensive coverage of the abuse of drones at home and abroad.

Disclosure: I am still a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Sevo||

    Window coverings; go long.

  • sloopyinca||

    I suppose the NYT has done the math and realizes these drones will be capable of effective use in just over 4 years. Not knowing if their overlord will somehow manage to stay in the White House, they can't take the chance on supporting the total police state yet.

  • sloopyinca||

    USAGE LIMITS: Drones should be deployed by law enforcement only with a warrant, AND in an emergency, or AND when there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific criminal act.

    Jesus Christ, ACLU. This is Fourth Amendment 101 here and you fucking fail right out of the gate.

  • Spartacus||

    Yeah, their criteria are way too weak. Experience hath shewn that "reasonable suspicion" means pretty much anything, especially to those of suspicious disposition to begin with.

  • BlogimiDei||

    So Bladerunner was off by just a bit. Instead of flying cop cars it is flying cop ears and eyes - drones.

  • Corneliusm||

    But do they include cinematic lens flares?

  • sarcasmic||

    You have nothing to fear if you aren't doing anything wrong. Right?

  • Rich||

    Is is OK to stare at the drones?

  • ||

    Do not taunt Happy Fun Drone.

  • Rhywun||

    You know you're pushing too hard when you've lost the NYT.


  • Anonymous Coward||

    This sounds like the sort of problem that is easily corrected by Remington. Your neighbor or the police can come get what's left of their toy.

  • Libertarian||

    I CANNOT WAIT until the story of the first anti-drone incident (Bubba with a 12 gauge) hits the newswire..............


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.