Up in the sky – it’s a bird, it’s a plane. No, it could be a drone. The Federal Aviation Administration is making it easier for local enforcement agencies to fly the unmanned aircraft. The military uses them to go after terrorists overseas. Now, police can use them for surveillance and patrol. But what about your privacy?
“We think of it as battle field technology but usually that’s where its tested,” said Chris Swecker, a former FBI Assistant Director and prosecutor.
He says there’s no reason why domestic law enforcement agencies shouldn’t use the latest technology available, like drones.
“Traffic monitoring, to crowd control for large events,” said Swecker, “NASCAR car events are 300,000.”
When people picture unmanned aerial vehicles, TV images from Afghanistan or Iraq come to mind. The U.S. military can track terrorists from the sky, and if necessary kill. For civilian use, the FAA predicts American citizens might see 30,000 smaller drones flying over American skies.
“Some of them can sniff out Wi-Fi networks and break into your Internet connection and they can spy on text messages and phone calls,” said Trevor Timm, a blogger with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Congress passed a law earlier this year telling the FAA to hand out drone licenses to local police. The surveillance aspect raises privacy alarms for civil liberties groups like EFF.
“If these drones are flying above every town in the U.S. in the next five years, then that means that people will be monitored basically 24/7.”
So far, the FAA has authorized several cities and organizations to fly drones, including Seattle Police Department, Arlington Police Department, Houston, Miami-Dade County Police, and the FBI.
Drone technology is also more efficient. This one, called the Phantom Eye, can stay in the sky up to four days. It can also be controlled solely by computer.
“There’s no reason to shy away from it,” said Swecker. “I think the courts will do what they do best and that is refine the privacy aspects of it.”
FOX Charlotte asked CMPD if drone use has been discussed or planned for the DNC and beyond. They said no.
EFF said if and when cities adopt drone technology, it will push for ordinances requiring transparency.