The growing use of domestic drones is setting off alarms — justifiably?
(Page 2 of 3)
As the Cato Institute’s Gene Healy explained to me, billions of dollars invested in the NSA data-mining regime represents a pretty severe threat to American privacy. But that menace remains fairly abstract. Not so, suggests Healy, when you learn “the government has eyes in the sky that perch undetected over your house.”
Some drones fly for days at a time. Others are so small and efficient they can be powered by household batteries. Highly sophisticated camera technology collects a constant stream of surveillance footage. The reason local law enforcement doesn’t keep a camera on every street corner is that it’s expensive — drones dramatically lower the opportunity cost of state supervision.
In other words, it would be difficult to envision a more efficient, cost-effective instrument of state surveillance. And don’t forget — we should assume our privacy protection laws run a step behind technological change.
So is this the stuff of science fiction? Or is it simply a contemporary rendering of the East German police state — absent human informers — but boasting a similarly advanced network of spy-cameras, now mechanized and airborne?
Back in April, I corresponded with Ryan Calo — Director for Privacy and Robotics for the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University and incoming professor of law at the University of Washington. He warned the following, with respect to the evolving FAA mandate and presumptions about the security of your privacy:
The Federal Aviation Administration has historically focused on safety. But this does not mean that the FAA cannot solicit comment on privacy. Other federal agencies—-for instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—-routinely take into account a wide variety of social and legal hurdles to the deployment of new technologies. And the new law charges the FAA specifically with determining the impact of drones on national security. My hope is that the FAA will respond to the recent petitions and look into the privacy concerns the domestic use of drones by government clearly raise. If the FAA doesn’t, who will?
In response to these concerns, a bipartisan pair of Congressional lawmakers — Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) — pressed acting FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta, to demonstrate how it plans to protect the privacy of American citizens if drone use increases. As of press time, the agency had not responded, although the FAA is continuing with plans to fully integrate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into our friendly skies.
Absent FAA riposte (and with a tip of the hat to Healy’s June 12 column in the Washington Examiner) consider that the Senate Armed Services Committee called for drones to fly “freely and routinely” about American airspace in its recent 2013 Defense Authorization bill.
The potential damage to personal privacy prompted a hasty reply in Congress. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Congressman Austin Scott (R-GA) took immediate and appropriate action to define the terms and temperament of drone surveillance.
Sen. Paul told me the following:
As technology advances, we have to make sure it still complies with our Constitution. The Fourth Amendment clearly covers something like spying from above without a warrant. While law enforcement may want to advance their capabilities, they still must square them with our rights as citizens.
Sen. Paul’s bill would prohibit the gratuitous use of drones by the government, except when a warrant is issued for its use in accordance with the Fourth Amendment.
Remember, the trick with drones is it’s difficult to assert privacy. You don’t enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public places, where your face, your car, and your family are already visible to everyone. Drones do not involve “unreasonable searches and seizures,” to quote the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court has recognized that surveillance, in plain view, isn’t “unreasonable” — it isn’t even a “search.” However, a major uptick in the use of police drones might force the Supreme Court to re-examine how much police surveillance is too much police surveillance.
Rep. Scott communicated a similar message as Sen. Paul, but raised an interesting and important point about the potential payback of domestic drones.
As he explained:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online