Domestic Drone Use Faces Battle in New Petition
A remotely operated Predator drone. Drone operators for the U.S. military recently answered questions from the public on Reddit.
CREDIT: U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt
If the evolution of warfare means replacing human combatants with robotic ones, then the future is already here. Unmanned aerial drones have streamlined a number of overseas operations, but they have been deployed to fight terrorism domestically as well.
As the technology allows the government to potentially violate citizens’ privacy without just cause, drones have attracted their share of scorn. One critical organization, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), wants to see the entire program put on hold until it can ensure compliance with federal privacy laws. EPIC has posted a petition, addressed toward the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to halt the drone program, and invites any and all interested parties to sign.
“The use of drones for border surveillance presents substantial privacy and civil liberties concerns for millions of Americans across the country,” the petition reads. EPIC details how the U.S. government has used unmanned drones for a variety of domestic law enforcement bodies, including the Department of Defense, the FBI
, and a number of local agencies. “As a result of this practice, anyone in the United States could be subject to surveillance by a CBP-owned drone.”
In particular, EPIC argues that the CBP may be in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and the Privacy Act of 1974. These two acts prohibit the U.S. government from spying on its own citizens without a proven necessity for law enforcement.
While EPIC does not accuse the CBP of being directly in violation of these acts, it does express concern about a lack of transparency and the increasing sophistication of the unmanned drones. Right now, drones can identify individual people on the ground with sophisticated cameras; in the future, the petition posits that they will likely be able to read license plates and detect people carrying concealed weapons.
EPIC’s ideal solution is not a dismantling of drones or a cessation of the CBP’s surveillance program, but rather, a revision of the process in which the public gets its fair say. “The Agency may not operate outside the law,” the petition asserts. “CBP must begin a public rulemaking to assess compliance with federal privacy laws and to establish privacy safeguards for the lawful deployment of drones in the United States.”
Those interested in signing the petition should head over to EPIC’s website. The petition does not publicly display how many people have signed, but given the White House’s recent interest in responding to a large number of petitions, it’s entirely possible that the CBP will follow suit and issue a response of its own.