Surveillance Drone Aircraft in Your Neighborhood
The Predator Drone
Your Right to Privacy Can be Threatened From Above
The Predator Drone, seen in the photograph to the left, has been a boon to our military activities wherever American service people are in harm's way. A drone is a pilotless aircraft operated from a control room by a "pilot" who maneuvers it with a joystick. The drone operator may be thousands of miles away from his aircraft, and the link up is via satellite. One of the United State's major drone operation centers is near Las Vegas, Nevada. A drone operator can go to the Air Force Base in the morning just like anyone else reporting for work. But his job is different. When he goes to work he goes to war. The drone aircraft can be used for aerial surveillance as well as combat. Armed with missiles, the drone can fire on a target with an electronic order from thousands of miles away. The use of drones has been a breakthrough for the military. The only controversy surrounding the use of drones in the military have been civilian casualties. But, tragic as these incidents may have been, the same could have occurred with the use of a manned aircraft. But the Predator is only one type of drone aircraft, which includes drone helicopters.
Domestic Use of Drone Aircraft - A Growing Threat To Privacy
The United States Constitution, in its text and through countless court cases, guarantees us the reasonable expectation of privacy. This right, of course, is subject to exceptions such as a police officer who spots a weapon on your car seat when he is making a routine traffic stop. If a law enforcement officer presents a judge with evidence that a crime may have been permitted a judge can issue a search warrant for your home. But without any showing of probable cause, your home is your castle and the government has no business being on your property or making a surveillance photograph or video of it.
That is about to change. Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with safety regulations for the use of domestic drone aircraft, but has not come up with any legislation about the privacy issues surrounding the domestic use of drone aircraft. The uses of drones can be completely benign and quite useful. Farmers have expressed interest in using drones to monitor crops. Environmental groups see drones as a good way to check on endangered animal populations. Oil companies understandably see drones as a great way to check on the status of pipelines.
In an Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll about the domestic use of drones for police work, 44 percent said it was okay, but a large minority - 36 percent - opposed the police use of drones. When you first think about it, the idea of cops using drones to catch bad guys sounds fine. But when you pause to ponder the ramifications, it gets downright scary. The video to the right neatly summarizes the current state of affairs. As the report recounts, we could see FAA sanctioned drone aircraft circling our skies.
A Drone Helicopter
What is your opinion of domestic police use of drone aircraft
How Can Aerial Drones Affect Our Privacy?
As Judge Andrew Napolitano described the situation in the Fox video, this is a decision made by bureaucrats, not legislation. And things can get strange indeed with the unfettered use of drone aircraft. Soon there may be 30,000 drones flying in American domestic airspace. The bottom line is that our constitutional framework gives legal teeth to the old saying that your home is your castle. Never has this understanding of basic privacy been more under attack than by the use of drone aircraft. As the Fox News video noted, the FAA regulations allow a photo to be kept for 90 days, even if it had nothing to do with the mission of the aircraft. Let's look at some of the ways that an overhead drone can invade your life.
· If a drone is on its way to a lawful exercise, what is to prevent its downward looking camera to photograph your yard. What's all that lumber doing there? Are you doing construction without a building permit? What is to stop government drones from cooperating with towns and villages for zoning enforcement.
· People in enclosed yards, with their reasonable expectation of privacy, may wish to sunbath in the nude. A drone could photograph the scene. If the picture shows up on the Internet, how can it be traced to the drone.
· Drones, when flying low, can even take sideways photos of the interior of your house.
· So you're having a gathering in your yard. For perfectly lawful reasons, you want the identity of the guests to remain anonymous. An overhead drone doesn't know about anonymity.
Like so many modern inventions, a new piece of technology can be a boon or a bane to our free society. There are laws on the books, both federal and state, regulating the use of taping and listening devices. The domestic use of drone aircraft present legislatures with the challenge of ensuring that these machines don't slowly deprive us of our basic constitutional rights.
Copyright © 2012 by Russell F. Moran