"Mr. Speaker, the domestic use of drones is on the way. There will be more eyes in the sky looking over America."
With those words, last week, Representative Ted Poe (R-Texas), reintroduced the Preserving American Privacy Act, "legislation [that] balances individual constitutional rights with legitimate government activity and the private use of drones." Poe added, "We don't have time to wait until 2030 when there are 30,000 drones in the sky."
Poe also said:
"Sometimes drones are good. We can thank drones for helping us track terrorists overseas and for helping us catch outlaws on the border. Legitimate uses by government and private citizens do occur, but a nosy neighbor or a Big Brother government does not have the right to look into a window without legitimate cause or, in the case of the government, probable cause."
While many Americans have serious reservations about the use of drones to target terrorists -- or for that matter, for any purpose, civilian or military -- probably many more Americans would object to the use of drones within our country's borders, especially after listening to Poe's warnings:
"According to the FAA, by 2015, it will allow the use of drones nationwide, and by 2030, 30,000 drones will be cruising American skies -- looking, observing, filming, and hovering over America. They will come whether we like it or not. We will not know where they are or what they're looking at or what their purpose is, whether it's permitted or not permitted, whether it's lawful or unlawful, and we really won't know who is flying those drones."
Poe was referring to a federal law signed by President Obama last February that "compels the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors -- from selling real estate and dusting crops, to monitoring oil and wildlife, even shooting Hollywood films," according to a New York Times article at the time. "Local police and emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones," the Times added.
In his speech to Congress last week, Poe also said:
"Mr. Speaker, drones are easy to find. I learned from a simple Google search that you can buy a drone on eBay or at your local Radio Shack. It's very easy. And as technology changes, Congress has the responsibility to be proactive and to protect the Fourth Amendment right of all citizens. The Fourth Amendment states, 'The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.'
While Poe sees instances when the use of drones would be appropriate -- "Law enforcement could use a drone for fire and rescue, to monitor droughts and to assess flood damage or to chase a fleeing criminal. And of course, the exceptions, called exigent circumstances, which are already in our law, will apply" -- there is a fierce debate going on across the country, especially at local levels, expressing serious concerns about any and all uses of drones.
In Saturday's New York Times, "Rise of Drones in U.S. Drives Efforts to Limit Police Use," we read about some of that debate:
"Drones are becoming a darling of law enforcement authorities across the country. But they have given rise to fears of government surveillance, in many cases even before they take to the skies. And that has prompted local and state lawmakers from Seattle to Tallahassee to proscribe how they can be used by police or to ground them altogether."
Listen to Dave Norris, a city councilman in Charlottesville, Va., who says, "To me, it's Big Brother in the sky... "
Read how in Norris' hometown:
"... police officers are prohibited from using in criminal cases any evidence obtained by drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles. Never mind that the city police department does not have a drone, nor has it suggested buying one. The police are not barred from using drones for other efforts, like search and rescue."
Read how "the Seattle Police Department agreed to return its two still-unused drones to the manufacturer after Mayor Michael McGinn answered public protests by banning their use," and about public opposition in Oakland, Calif., to the county sheriff's proposal "to use federal money to buy a four-pound drone to help his officers track suspected criminals... "
But also read how state and local governments are trying to weigh "not only the demands of the police and civil libertarians but also tricky legal questions" and how they are trying to hammer out legislature that seeks to "permit certain uses, while reassuring citizens against unwanted snooping."
Finally, should it be of any comfort to the reader, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International minimizes fears about wholesale surveillance. "The drones for sale for civilian use, it says, are nothing like the armed military grade aircraft used in wars overseas," the Times quotes.
Perhaps even more "reassuring," the FAA estimates that "the worldwide drone market could grow to $90 billion in the next decade," according to the Times.
Note: Congressman Poe's speech on drones is titled "The Drones are Coming, Page II."