A bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed legislation that would ban armed drones in the United States, and provide due process protections for Americans surveilled by drones.
The term “drone” refers to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), an aircraft without a human pilot on board. Drones are increasingly used over US soil by police for surveillance, and overseas by the military for information gathering and extralegal assassinations.
Representatives James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), Zoe Lofgren (D-California), and Ted Poe, R-Texas) are backing the legislation.
"Every advancement in crime fighting technology, from wiretaps to DNA, has resulted in courts carving out the Constitutional limits within which the police operate," Sensenbrenner told a House Judiciary subcommittee Friday.
"Current law has yet to catch up to this new technology," said Chris Calabrese, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. While acknowledging the good drones can do in finding missing persona and assisting firefighters, he expressed concern about overuse of drones in government surveillance.
Gregory McNeal, an associate law professor at Pepperdine University, urged lawmakers not to target drones specifically for legislation, as technology changes constantly. He said Congress should enact new laws setting standards for government surveillance and citizen expectations of privacy.
A law passed by Congress in 2012 directs the Federal Aviation Administration to allow widespread drone flights in the U.S. by 2015. The FAA estimates that up to 7,500 civilian drones could be in use within five years.
Since January, drone legislation has been introduced in over 30 states, in response to privacy concerns.