Thursday, March 21, 2013

Drones v. Privacy

The use of drones by the military has become increasingly prevalent in the United States’ conflicts in the Middle East.  However, with the cost of these “unmanned aerial systems”, there is now talk about potential use for these drones on U.S. soil.  

These drones have already been used by law enforcement in finding missing persons, and by county planners in measuring the growth of landfills.  Drones have also been used to investigate suspected arson, using thermal cameras to identify hot spots and investigate the path the fire traveled.  Other potential beneficial uses include reading license plates and face recognition.

However, the cost of drones is dropping to the point that private individuals and companies may have access to their use.  Some fear that criminals such as drug dealers and pedophiles could take advantage of the technology.  On a less sinister level, nosy neighbors may use these devices to monitor their neighbors.

With this technology, issues regarding citizens’ privacy must be addressed.  “Surveillance by government is limited by the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and snooping by corporations and individuals is covered by privacy law and common law. But these were not written with drones in mind.”  As such, states have already considered legislation specifically aimed at the issue of drones and privacy, with Congress lagging behind in the process.

While drones serve invaluable functions in the military, and provide great benefits to law enforcement and other governmental agencies, the potential use by private citizens and corporations raises great concern.  Even the use by law enforcement and governmental agencies raises concerns about overreaching use of this technology.  Without added legislation, citizens’ rights to privacy will be compromised, and this right of privacy is not and cannot be usurped simply by using technology not originally contemplated or in existence when these laws were originally enacted.  It should be the spirit of the law (the right to privacy) that is protected, no matter the words used to convey this intent.

More information can be found at the Wall Street Journal.