Outside group presses FAA against drone expansion

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Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s an unmanned drone flying over the neighborhood? While this idea would have been deemed far-fetched in a pre-9/11 world, Congress recently passed a new budget for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that would in fact vastly expand and accelerate the use of drones inside the U.S.

Thankfully, Americans appear to be wearying of the ever-expanding “homeland security” state surrounding their persons, homes, businesses and communities — perhaps even to the point of finally saying, “Enough is enough.”

According to a recent survey by Rasmussen Reports, a Republican-friendly polling firm, 76% of Americans are supportive of using drones to kill terrorists. Importantly, however, more than half of voters surveyed — 52% — are opposed to their use by law enforcement agencies inside the United States.

Clearly, Americans have very real privacy concerns with the domestic use of drones. On the other hand, countless federal, state and local agencies — hand in hand with the private companies that manufacture such technology — are eagerly rushing to embrace their use and increase the federal “homeland security” dollars available to assist in that regard.

These privacy concerns have prompted at least one prominent privacy-rights group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), to petition the FAA to hold a rulemaking session to consider the privacy and safety threats posed by the increased use of drones.

In a letter to the FAA, EPIC explained that because “drones greatly increase the capacity for domestic surveillance” (drones use sophisticated high-definition digital and infrared cameras, heat sensors and motion detectors), they must be subject to increased rather than relaxed scrutiny and regulation. EPIC 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.”

EPIC is also concerned about the use and retention of data gathered by government and private entities operating drones. This data constitutes a veritable treasure trove of information for government and corporate databases.

It is unclear whether the FAA will relent to the requests of EPIC and other concerned groups, and at least conduct minimal due diligence to ensure adequate privacy and safety guidelines are in place before drones start appearing with regularity over American cities, towns and countrysides. Such a move, however, would indicate that the Obama administration — which for three and a half years has largely continued the policies of its predecessor in refusing to recognize the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed in the Bill of Rights — does in fact harbor some concern about the use of technology to spy on American citizens.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.