ACLU Recommended Safe Guards for Drone Use - dummies

ACLU Recommended Safe Guards for Drone Use

By Mark LaFay

Drones are definitely controversial largely due to the general public’s perception of them as a tool for the government surveillance and other violations of personal civil liberties. The government’s expansion of domestic use of drones for surveillance has caused many people to raise concerns, so much so that the ACLU has stepped in and recommended the following list of safe guards for drone usage:

  • Usage limits: Drones should be deployed by law enforcement only with a warrant, in an emergency, or when there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific criminal act.

  • Data retention: Images should be retained only when there is reasonable suspicion that they contain evidence of a crime or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or trial.

  • Policy: Usage policy on domestic drones should be decided by the public’s representatives, not by police departments, and the policies should be clear, written, and open to the public.

  • Abuse prevention & accountability: Use of domestic drones should be subject to open audits and proper oversight to prevent misuse.

  • Weapons: Domestic drones should not be equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons.

For some, however, things aren’t moving fast enough and so they’ve opted to take matters into their own hands. In 2013, the town of Deer Trail, Colorado, considered an ordinance that would pay a bounty for every drone shot out of the sky. This was not passed, but the proposal elevated the conversation on domestic surveillance with drones and ethical and legal boundaries for domestic drone usage, civil, commercial, and public.

In 2014, a New Jersey man was arrested for shooting a drone out of the sky with a shotgun. He felt the drone was invading his property and therefore defended his home from the invasion. He was, however, arrested for 2 gun-related crimes and the drone operator was not charged simply because there were no laws on the books preventing the use of his drone over his neighbor’s property.

The home owner that took matters into his own hands argued that the drone was on private property; unfortunately, case law precedent said otherwise. In a 1946 Supreme Court decision U.S. vs. Causby, it was ruled that airspace is public highway and that airplanes could fly through it unencumbered by property law. Later in the 1980s, the Supreme Court also found that law enforcement didn’t need a warrant for aerial images and that home owners did not have any expectation of privacy.

In fact, if you were to damage someone else’s drone, even if it was flying over your property, you could be found by a court to owe damages to repair or replace the drone. If someone parked their car on your lawn, you couldn’t set it on fire, but you could have it towed and then sue the owner for any costs associated with the towing and repair to any damages to your lawn.

If you find that someone is invading your privacy with a drone and you want to take matters into your own hands, your best bet is to start with contacting law enforcement. The next step is to put your vote to work. Contact your state representatives. If you don’t know who your federal representatives are, you can find out by visiting the U.S Congress website. If you want to know who your state-level representatives are, go to your state government’s homepage.