Drones have been employed throughout the US for surveillance purposes, but a Kansas City lawmaker perceives this type of spying as a violation of the Fourth Amendment and is working to limit the government’s use of domestic drones.
Kansas City Rep. Casey Guernsey (R), who works in the Missouri House of Representatives, claims that the domestic use of drones is a defilement of American freedom. The state legislator this week introduced the ‘Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act’, which would require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant in order to use UAV surveillance to gather criminal activity. The bill would also protect agriculture businesses and farmers from being spied on without their knowledge.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, have in recent years been employed throughout the US to capture criminals and monitor illegal immigrants. Homeland security claims to use the UAVs to protect US citizens from terrorism and crime, while the drones are also used for “disaster relief, immigration control and environmental monitoring,” according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The National Guard claims to use unmanned drones for wildfire surveillance.
Few drones are currently employed in the US, but the Federal Aviation Administration predicts that 30,000 UAVs will fly over the US in less than 20 years. The surveillance capabilities of the watchful machines has been a cause of concern for privacy advocates, with some claiming that the drones are a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against ‘unreasonable searches.’
“As drones become less expensive, our fear is that police and other agencies could use them for fishing expeditions that infringe on individual’s right to privacy,” Gary Brunk, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, tells the Kansas City Star.
Rep. Guernsey has already become alarmed over the use of drones in Missouri and believes that unless their use is restricted, it won’t be long until the government spies on individuals inside their homes.
“It isn’t far-fetched that we could see government agencies deploy drones to spy on individuals and businesses around the state,” he says.
When it comes to the use of surveillance drones, California is facing similar privacy concerns as Missouri. Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern has made a request to purchase a drone for overhead surveillance above his county. Using $31,646 of a $1.2 million grant dispersed by the California Emergency Management Agency, the sheriff wants to purchase the UAV for “search and rescue, pursuing violent felons, pursuing people evading law enforcement and having the air support during a natural disaster to see the safest routes for people to travel in and out of an area,” Ahern said.
Privacy advocates have called for a public discussion about the sheriff’s request, which Ahern postponed, claiming that his drone request is unrelated to the issue of privacy.
Nationwide, about a dozen law enforcement agencies have or are using a drone for surveillance purposes, which the CRS claims is a rising problem.
“Some members of Congress and the public fear there are insufficient safeguards in place to ensure that drones are not used to spy on American citizens and unduly infringe upon their fundamental policy,” the CRS reports.