CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, is calling on the United States Senate Judiciary Committee to protect the privacy and civil liberties of American citizens from police use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. In the wake of the passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act, it is expected that at least 30,000 drones will occupy U.S. airspace by 2020. In alerting the Senate Judiciary Committee to the dangers posed by drones to citizens’ privacy and civil liberties, The Rutherford Institute has made model legislation available, titled “Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act,” that would not only prohibit the federal government from using data recorded via police spy drones in criminal prosecutions but would also prevent police agencies from utilizing drones outfitted with anti-personnel devices such as tasers and tear gas.
“These drones—aerial, robotic threats to privacy and security—are being unleashed on the American populace before any real protocols to protect our privacy rights have been put in place and in such a way as to completely alter the landscape of our lives and our freedoms,” said Whitehead. “It is critical that Congress not only give serious consideration to the dangers posed to our freedoms by these aerial devices but ensure that the American people are protected against any resulting incursions on their rights as provided for by the U.S. Constitution.”
As The Rutherford Institute’s fact sheet on drones details, the FAA Reauthorization Act, signed into law by President Obama in early 2012, has opened the door for drones, once confined to the battlefields over Iraq and Afghanistan, to be used domestically for a wide range of functions, both public and private, governmental and corporate. Yet without proper safeguards, these devices, some of which are deceptively small and capable of videotaping the facial expressions of people on the ground from hundreds of feet in the air, will usher in a new age of surveillance in American society. Not even those indoors, in the privacy of their homes, will be safe from these aerial spies, which can be equipped with technology capable of peering through walls. In addition to their surveillance capabilities, drone manufacturers have confirmed that drones can also be equipped with automatic weapons, grenade launchers, tear gas, and tasers. Aside from the very serious and grave implications for privacy and civil liberties raised by Whitehead, there are also a number of safety issues involved with drone technology, with the paramount concern being that drones have a history of malfunctioning mid-air. Drones are also vulnerable to hackers, allowing unauthorized persons to access information gathered via drone, or to take control of the drone’s flight path. Noting that the safety and privacy issues posed by the implementation of drone technology are a bi-partisan concern, Whitehead concludes by calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure that drone technology is fully vetted by a commission charged with studying its impact on the safety and privacy of Americans. “In the meantime, however,” states Whitehead, “it is imperative that Congress assures the citizens of this country that their privacy, safety, and civil liberties will not be jeopardized for the sake of expedience, economy and security.