Watchdogs warn that UAVs increase “First Amendment risks for would be political dissidents”
by Steve Watson
Several prominent privacy watchdog groups have petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the proposed increase in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the skies above the US.
Over 30 rights groups, including The American Civil Liberties Union, The Electronic Privacy Information Center and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee are demanding that the FAA hold a rulemaking session to consider the privacy and safety threats posed by the increased use of drones.
The petition (PDF) notes that because “drones greatly increase the capacity for domestic surveillance”, including the use of sophisticated high-definition digital and infrared cameras, heat sensors and motion detectors, they must be subject to increased rather than relaxed scrutiny and regulation.
The petition also notes that the FAA must follow its legal mandate and protect the safety of Americans by “resolv[ing] the privacy problems association with the highly intrusive nature of drone aircraft, and the ability of operators to gain access to private areas or to track individuals over large distances.”
The privacy groups also note that the use and retention of data gathered by government and privately operated drones should be flagged.
“The consequences of increased government surveillance through the use of drones are even more troubling.” the petition notes. “The ability to link facial recognition capabilities on drone cameras to the FBI’s Next Generation Identification database or DHS’ IDENT database, two of the largest collections of biometric data in the world, increases the First Amendment risks for would be political dissidents.”
“In addition, the use of drones implicates significant Fourth Amendment interests and well established common law privacy rights.” the rights groups add.
Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.
Once signed by president Obama, the FAA Reauthorization Act allows for the FAA to permit the use of drones and develop regulations for testing and licensing by 2015.
The bill will exponentially speed up and streamline the process by which the FAA authorizes the use of drones by federal, state and local police and other government agencies. Currently, the FAA issues a certificate on a case by case basis.
The legislation represents the result of a huge push by the military industrial complex to open up US skies to what will become a multi-million dollar business.
The ACLU has noted that “This bill would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected.”
A recent Rasmussen poll found that despite a willingness on the part of Americans to see the use of drones by the military in overseas situations, 52% oppose the use of surveillance drones by private entities, police agencies, and government agencies inside the US. Just 30% said they were in favor of the use of drones in the US.
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