Drone Rule

Aircraft guidelines


Drones—unmanned aircraft capable of surveillance and, if armed, attacking targets—have assumed a more prominent role in military and police armories in the last several years. In August, responding to fears about safety and privacy, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) published guidelines for the use of drones. The guidelines are not binding, but they offer an industry standard against which law enforcement agencies can be judged.

Recommended Guidelines for the Use of Unmanned Aircraft, compiled by the IACP's Aviation Committee, addresses civil libertarian concerns that drones' high-profile overseas role as robotic assassins will be imported for domestic use. It says "equipping the aircraft with weapons of any type is strongly discouraged."

With regard to privacy, the guidelines suggest that drone operators "secure a search warrant prior to conducting the flight" if there is reason to believe the unmanned aircraft "will collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing and if the [drone] will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy." Photographs taken by drones, the IACP says, should not be retained "unless required as evidence of a crime, as part of an on-going investigation, for training, or required by law." And police will get an idea of local expectations if they take the organization's advice to "engage their community early in the planning process, including their governing body and civil liberties advocates."

While the IACP is essentially a trade organization with no enforcement powers, it has a history of establishing practices that become benchmarks. The American Civil Liberties Union, while suggesting somewhat tighter restrictions on drone use, says "the IACP is to be applauded for addressing this issue, and for issuing recommendations that are quite strong in some areas."