With the looming threat of faceless drones buzzing around American cities, congress has proposed banning armed drones and regulating their use for law enforcement surveillance. The Preserving American Privacy Act introduced by U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CrunchGov Grade: A) would require warrants for unmanned aircraft systems to collect personally identifiable information and a public notice to collect information in public areas.
At least one state, Virginia, has already proposed a two-year moratorium on drones, while lawmakers can craft sound policy regulating their use (i.e. so they can figure out what to do with this crazy new technology).
On the one hand, drones give law enforcement an important life-saving surveillance tool. They were reportedly used to catch elusive cop killer, Christopher Dorner. “the thermal imaging cameras the drones use may be our only hope of finding him. On the ground, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said one unnamed police source to The Express.
But, Trevor Timm of digital civil liberties watchdog group, The Electronic Freedom Foundation, tells TechCrunch in an email, “Drones provide law enforcement with many of the modern privacy-invasive tools, all in one place. They have high definition cameras that can also be fitted with infrared, heat sensing, or facial recognition technology. They can be equipped with fake cell phone towers that can potentially intercept your text messages, phone calls, and lock onto your GPS. And soon the small police drones will have the ability to stay in the air for hours or days at a time.”
Currently, he claims, there are no laws to prevent round-the-clock surveillance. At a Google+ Hangout yesterday, President Obama dodged questions about the use of drones on U.S. soil, only to say that no American has ever been targeted by one within the U.S.
Many of these types of bills die in congressional subcommittees before they even get a fighting chance, so its unknown how likely it is to pass. Click here for point-by-point sections of the bill [PDF].