I'm live at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations.”
Chairman Leahy stated that the committee will attempt to conduct the hearing while members rotate in and out to take votes.
An excerpt from Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) opening statement follows (emphasis added):
The focus of today’s hearing is on the domestic, non-military use of drones. Recently, the debate about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or “drones”, has largely focused on the lethal targeting of suspected terrorists, including Americans. I continue to have deep concerns about the constitutional and legal implications of such targeted killings. I have spoken with Senator Durbin, and next month he will chair a hearing in the Constitution subcommittee that will examine these issues carefully. In addition, I will continue to press the administration to provide this Committee with all relevant Office of Legal Counsel opinions related to the use of drones to conduct targeted killings.
As I noted at the beginning of this Congress, I am convinced that the domestic use of drones to conduct surveillance and collect other information will have a broad and significant impact on the everyday lives of millions of Americans going forward.
On this issue, we cannot take a short-sighted view, and we must realize that technology in this area will advance at an incredible rate. This topic is of significant interest to many members of our Committee, and I hope that this hearing will be just the beginning of an ongoing dialogue as to how best to manage the unique privacy threats associated with this modern technology, while not stifling this nascent industry that has enormous potential to improve our lives.
Before giving his own statement, Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said to Leahy that, “I don’t think there are any differences between your concern and my concern on this issue.” His worries were similar: “We must remember that the power of new technology creates greater responsibility” to protect the rights of our citizens. “Just because the government [observes] the constitution does not mean it can” surveill citizens constantly. He invoked "Big Brother" and asserted that constant monitoring is incompatible with the ideal of living in a free society. Another topic of discussion was the potential for prosecutorial use and abuse of unmanned systems. “It’s very important that the American people know when and how the Justice Department will use these machines.”
Reflecting the uncertainty and controversy surrounding drones, one of the witnesses, Michael Toscano, took exception to the term, which he said carries an unduly negative connotation.