Jan 232011
 
 January 23, 2011  Surveillance

Peter Finn reports on an issue I’ve covered before on this blog: the use of unmanned drones to peer into people’s back yards.  The drones not only provide an “eye in the sky” for visual surveillance but can be equipped with thermal imaging technology and other technologies that should trigger Fourth Amendment protection if the drone is used to gather information inside a person’s home. Finn reports:

For now, the use of drones for high-risk operations is exceedingly rare. The Federal Aviation Administration – which controls the national airspace – requires the few police departments with drones to seek emergency authorization if they want to deploy one in an actual operation. Because of concerns about safety, it only occasionally grants permission.

But by 2013, the FAA expects to have formulated new rules that would allow police across the country to routinely fly lightweight, unarmed drones up to 400 feet above the ground – high enough for them to be largely invisible eyes in the sky.

Such technology could allow police to record the activities of the public below with high-resolution, infrared and thermal-imaging cameras.

Read the full story on Washington Post.

Ironically – or scarily, depending on your perspective – law enforcement sees the potential benefit without reference to risk:

“Not since the Taser has a technology promised so much for law enforcement,” said Ben Miller of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, which has used its drone, called a Draganflyer, to search for missing persons after receiving emergency authorization from the FAA.

Of course, those who read the news or law blawgs are well aware of many instances in which Tasers have been misused or over-used, and have physically harmed or killed people. Will drones be the privacy equivalent of Tasers with parallel risks?

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