Get Ready for the Invasion of the ‘Civilian-Owned Drone”‘

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… your right to privacy flying away.

By now, damn near everyone has heard about these “drones.” So what are they? Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that are touted for both law enforcement and civilian use, and many states are vying for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) contracts to allow drone testing. And that fact raises another question: What’s the need to use these drones?

Farmers, for example, may use UAVs to monitor their crops, and law enforcement agents may use them for a similar purpose — scouting for marijuana. Drones also have use in situations which would put an FBI agent’s life at risk and can provide stealthy surveillance in hostage situations.

Case in point: Earlier this year, the FBI used a drone to monitor the Alabama bunker where 65-year-old Jimmy Dykes held a 5-year-old boy captive after storming a school bus, shooting the driver, and kidnapping the boy.

Certainly, there are situations in which unmanned surveillance can be extremely useful. However, several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), note that the federally funded drone programs have been pushed through with no regard for citizen privacy and with no safeguards in place to protect our rights.

Still, in light of recent news of NSA surveillance of phone records, email, and electronic communications, it seems that expecting privacy — our constitutional right — may seem a bit too much to ask for in this current climate.

Let’s go back to June, at a Senate Judiciary Committee FBI oversight hearing, when former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III admitted that the FBI had been using drones in law enforcement operations and domestic surveillance since 2006, and that they had spent more than $3 million doing so. Mueller addressed privacy concerns by saying that the agency was in the initial stages of writing privacy policy to ensure that the drones are used in a manner that does not violate constitutional privacy rights.

Yep, you read that correctly. The “initial stages” — some seven years after the FBI began using drones for domestic surveillance. Let’s call that seven years of bad luck for privacy rights.

Congressmen across the nation are encouraging their home states to draft privacy laws regarding drone use. In Oklahoma, Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, has joined forces with the ACLU to introduce House Bill 1556, which is intended to set limits and guidelines for the use of drones in his state. While the measure passed House Committee last year, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin urged Wesselhoft to hold the bill, citing concerns over whether the measure would impact the state’s application for UAV testing and development funding.

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