Big Brother is Watching


Public Law 112-95 was signed by President Obama on February 14, 2012; this law will regulate domestic drones also known as unmanned aircraft systems. The law is known as the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which will regulate the use of domestic surveillance drones within US airspace.

The Federal Aviation Administration will be setting-up six test sites for drones. Thus far 30 states have indicated interest in becoming one of the six test sites to test drones. The FAA hopes that drones will begin flying routinely in America by late 2015. Officials have predicted that by the year 2020 there could be as many as 10,000 non-military drones flying in US airspace and 30,000 drones flying domestically by 2030.

The FAA has already received 81 applications for drone licenses from police departments and educational institutions. Future use of domestic drones in the United States has many people concerned about privacy issues.  Organizations like the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) have worried that the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution may be violated if citizens are no longer safe from unlawful searches.

The IV Amendment states that all Americans should be safe in their homes-The Constitution guarantees that citizens shall be safe in their homes from unreasonable search and seizures and that warrants won’t be issued without probable cause:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Congressmen Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) introduced privacy legislation in February of 2013 that would require police to get a warrant or court order before operating a drone to collect information on individuals.  Legislatures in 15 states are considering laws to limit drone use.

The cities of Seattle, Washington and Charlottesville, Virginia have all raised fears that domestic drones could be misused by law enforcement agencies. The mayor of Seattle recently ordered the police department to return its two unused Draganflyer X6 helicopter drones to the manufacturer after privacy  protesters voiced privacy concerns .In Charlottesville, Virginia, the City Council recently passed a resolution barring local police from using drones to collect evidence in criminal cases for the next two years within the city limits.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes that “routine aerial surveillance would profoundly change the character of public life in America. Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this technology without bringing us closer to a ‘surveillance society’ in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government”.

 This chart  was created by the ACLU and shows the current status of state legislation in 30 states.  Allie Bohm, an advocacy and policy strategist who is employed by the ACLU, said it would be a race to see which of the 30 states listed would be the first to pass legislation governing drone use in the United States.

Most states have included provisions in their proposed legislation that require a probable cause warrant in order for law enforcement to use drones to collect information. Listed below is a sample of what some states are including in their drone legislation:  


  • Some ban weaponization of drones (Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and North Dakota).
  • Some explicitly provide special protections from aerial surveillance for farmers or ranchers (rural states like Idaho and Missouri).
  • Some require reporting on law enforcement agencies’ drone usage so the legislature can figure out how drones work in practice (Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington).
  • A subset of the bills also require law enforcement to justify to their city councils or other local governing body their need for a drone before acquiring one (California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Washington).
  • Georgia’s bill allows drone use only to investigate felonies — not misdemeanors.

Here in Charlotte, the Mecklenburg Police Department has two helicopters, but does not have any drones. Currently, Patrick Cannon, the chairman of the Charlotte City Council’s community safety committee, told the Charlotte Observer that he thinks a drone could be useful. Cannon thought that the police could launch one during searches for criminals or runaways, instead of flying a police helicopter. Cannon belies that using a small device such as a drone would be less expensive than using one of the city helicopters. At this point in time Charlotte has not made plans to purchase any drones, and would not do so without public input.In March 2013, Monroe’s City Council gave the police department permission to buy a $44,000 mini drone for community safety. According to Monroe Police Chief Debra Duncan, the 3-foot-long, 2.5 pound device could be used for drug raids in a large area or to track a fleeing crime suspect. The city believes it will be several months before the drone will be put into use.

Source: Wootson, Cleve R. and Adam Bell.  “Monroe City Council OKs $44,000 drone for police department.”  Charlotte Observer 8 Mar 2013.

~Jane Fraytet~

1 Comment

Filed under Library, Miscellaneous

One response to “Big Brother is Watching

  1. Pingback: The Drones Are Coming-Part II | Charlotte Law Library News

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