Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Drones
- EPIC to FAA: Proposed Registration Requirements Fall Short: The FAA Drone Task Force Final Report fails to ensure the safe operation of drones in the United States. The committee proposed only that drone operators (1) register online, (2) receive a universal registration number, and (3) mark the number on drones prior to operation. In comments to the agency, EPIC recommended that drones broadcast registration numbers, and that registration include drone surveillance capabilities and contact information for operators, such as phone numbers. The FAA's former top drone official told the Associated Press that drone surveillance capabilities will contribute to safety risks. EPIC previously sued the FAA for failing to establish privacy rules for commercial drones. That case is pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Nov. 23, 2015)
- Congress Examines (Lack of) Drone Privacy and Safety: This week a House Committee examined "The Fast-Evolving Uses and Economic Impacts of Drones." Chairman Burgess, echoing comments from other committee members, stated, "there are important questions around privacy laws and safety." The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 required the FAA to develop a "comprehensive plan" to integrate drones into national airspace by September 30, 2015. Despite missing the deadline, the FAA has granted over 2,220 exemptions for commercial drones even as safety and privacy concerns increase. More than 100 privacy experts and organizations petitioned the FAA to establish privacy safeguards prior to the deployment of drones. EPIC has sued the agency, EPIC v. FAA, to establish privacy rules for commercial drones. (Nov. 20, 2015) More top news »
A "drone," or "unmanned aircraft," is an aerial vehicle designed to be used without a human pilot onboard. Drones can be remote controlled or purely automated. The history of Drones shows peaks and valleys in their development, with most advances occurring during times of war. Drones gained notoriety during their use in the post-9/11 armed conflicts in the Middle East. The United States government use drones to conduct detailed surveillance on countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, as well as to drop targeted missiles. In early 2007, more than 700 drones were being utilized in Iraq alone.
Due to the heights at which drones can fly, they are often beyond the range of sight for most people. In addition, drones can also be designed to be very small and maneuverable. This means drone surveillance often occurs without the knowledge of the individual being monitored.
Aeriel surveillance of drones within the United States raises significant privacy issues. These vehicles can gather detailed information on individuals.
Requirements to Operate a Drone Domestically
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a component of the Department of Trasnportation, is the agency responsible with licensing drones for domestic use. The FAA is charged with promulgating minimum standards for air safety in the United States National Air Space.
On September 16, 2005, the FAA issued guidelines on the domestic use of drones. The FAA then released a policy document concerning the operation of drone aircraft on February 13, 2007. Between the two documents, the requirements to institute the use of drone aircraft in the United States are made clear. These requirements were further elaborated on in a fact sheet on December 1, 2010.
The current requirements for a drone to be operated in U.S. are largely perfunctory, and focus mainly on the safety of the aircraft itself. Before a drone can be deployed in the United States, the drone must prove to be airworthy, and be granted either an FAA certification or (for drones operated by the government only) an airworthiness statement from the Department of Defense. Recreational operators of unmanned aircraft (used under 400 feet) are not required to comply with this requirement, though they are held to a standard of "good judgment."
For now, commercial drones may only be used under an "experimental" designation, which is accompanied by operational limitations. Government drones may operate more freely, though the government must obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) in order to operate a drone aircraft. The guidelines provide that an application for a COA "must include a hazard analysis, risk assessment, and other appropriate documentation that support the determination that injury to persons or property is extremely improbable."
The FAA is currently evaluating test sites in the United States to evaluate the safety impact of widespread drone deployment.
Drones in the United States
Since 2005, the FAA has issued 78 certificates to commercial drones. The FAA has had to increase staffing in order to keep up with the mounting demand for government licenses. In late 2010, there were 273 active government licenses, nearly 100 more than the previous year. Reports in 2012 demonstrate that the FAA has issued more than 300 drone licenses. Only minimal information has been released on the nature and function of these drones.
Many law enforcement offices in the United States have purchased drones, including Montgomery, Texas, Seattle, Washington, and Gadsden, Alabama. The Governor of Virginia said in 2012 that he thought it would be "great" to have drones flying over his State. The Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida used Federal grant money to purchase a small drone vehicle. Reports dating back to 2008 explain that Miami was seeking to use a small drone known as a Micro-Air Vehicle, "to gather real time information in situations which may be too dangerous for officers." However, police have admitted that the drone can be used to look into houses. As of December 2010, the FAA was reporting that they were cooperating with urban police departments in Houston and Miami on test programs involving unmanned aircraft. One drone manufacturer advertises on its webpage that police offices that want to own a drone should seek funding from the Department of Homeland Security.
Some of these government licenses belong to the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). CBP is a component of the Department of Homeland Security and has a mission that includes "keeping terrorists and weapons out of the United States." Drones have been used by CBP to patrol of United States borders since 2005. As of June 2012, CBP owned 10 drones. In December 2011, the CBP made headlines when reporters discovered that the agency's drones were being used to assist local law enforcement in North Dakota without receiving prior approval from the FAA or any other agency. Some reports indicate that this is a general practice.
Surveillance drones are equipped with sophisticated imaging technology that provides the ability to obtain detailed photographs of terrain, people, homes, and even small objects.
Gigapixel cameras used to outfit drones are among the highest definition cameras available, and can "provide real-time video streams at a rate of 10 frames a second." On some drones, operators can track up to 65 different targets across a distance of 65 square miles. Drones may also carry infrared cameras, heat sensors, GPS, sensors that detect movement, and automated license plate readers. In the near future these cameras may include facial recognition technology that would make it possible to remotely identify individuals in parks, schools, and at political gatherings.
Drones present a unique threat to privacy. Drones are designed to undertake constant, persistent surveillance to a degree that former methods of video surveillance were unable to achieve. "By virtue of their design, their size, and how high they can fly, [drones] can operate undetected in urban and rural environments."
The increased use of drones poses an ongoing threat to every person residing within the United States. Companies are developing "paparazzi drones" in order to follow and photograph celebrities. Private detectives are starting to use drones to track their targets. Google, inc. has deployed street-level drones in other countries to supplement the images of Street View. Criminals and others may use drones for purposes of stalking and harassment.
The consequences of increased government surveillance through the use of drones are even more troubling. The ability to link facial recognition capabilities on drone cameras to the FBI's Next Generation Identification database or DHS' IDENT database, two of the largest collections of biometric data in the world, increases the First Amendment risks for would-be political dissidents. In addition, the use of drones implicates significant Fourth Amendment interests and well established common law privacy rights. With special capabilities and enhanced equipment, drones are able to conduct far-more detailed surveillance, obtaining high-resolution picture and video, peering inside high-level windows, and through solid barriers, such as fences, trees, and even walls.
The US Supreme Court has held that individuals do not generally have Fourth Amendment rights with respect to aerial surveillance because of the ability that anyone might have to observe what could be viewed from the air. Of course, individuals do not operate drone vehicles with the capabilities of the US government. Also, some state courts have reached different conclusions about the privacy issues associated with aerial surveillance.
In other cases where advanced technologies have allowed increasingly intrusive Government surveillance, courts have adjusted Fourth Amendment doctrine to account for the effect of technological change on the reasonable expectation of privacy. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in Kyllo v. US that the use of a device that is not in "general public use" is a search even if it does not physically invade the home. In 2010, the D.C. Circuit Court required the Department of Homeland Security to undertake a new APA rulemaking when the Agency sought to implement Whole Body Imaging technology in the place of metal detectors as primary screening tools at U.S. airports. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in US v. Jones that the attachment of a GPS device to a car with the intent of gathering information was a "search" under the Fourth Amendment. The Jones decision marks a significant change from the previous doctrine, based on US v. Knotts, that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in their location on public roads.
Drone surveillance also implicates public safety issues as the drones operate in airspace that may also be used by commercial and private aircraft. For this reason, federal agencies should regulate and control the proliferation of drone surveillance.The House of Representatives approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 to prohibit information collected by Department of Defense drones without a warrant from being used as evidence in court. In June 2012, identical bills were introduced in the House and the Senate to require a warrant before drones could be used for most instances of criminal surveillance. Other bills also discuss the use of drones in the United States.
EPIC has a long history defending against intrusive surveillance programs.
In 2008, EPIC launched Observing Surveillance, a project that documented the surge in the number of video cameras placed in DC's public spaces. EPIC's Executive Director, Marc Rotenberg, appeared before the DC City Council to support efforts to suspend an expensive and invasive system of 5,200 surveillance cameras in the nation's capitol. In 2011, EPIC fought to attract attention to the FAST Project, DHS' public testing of a new sensor array used to conduct covert surveillance of individuals who are not suspected of any crime. Additionally, EPIC works to protect location privacy against government monitoring in many ways, including filing a "friend of the court" brief in U.S. v. Jones, urging the Court to find warrantless GPS tracking device by the police unconstitutional.
In 2005, EPIC first publicized the impact that drones have on Privacy, specifically in the area of border surveillance. EPIC explained, "the use of UAVs gives the federal government a new capability to monitor citizens clandestinely, while the effectiveness of the expensive, crash-prone surveillance planes in border patrol operations has not been proved."
On February 24, 2012, EPIC, joined by over 100 organizations, experts, and members of the public, submitted a petition to the FAA requesting a notice and comment rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act on the privacy impact of drones. The petition pointed out that the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (signed on February 14, 2012) provides an opportunity for the Agency to address the privacy questions raised by drone usage. On July 13, 2012, EPIC's Amie Stepanovich testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, stating "there are substantial legal and constitutional issues involved in the deployment of aerial drones by federal agencies that need to be addressed."
- EPIC: Drone Registration Task Force
- Congressional Research Service: Domestic Drones and Privacy: A Primer (March 30, 2015)
- EPIC: APA Petition to the FAA (February 24, 2012)
- EPIC: Spotlight on Surveillance - Unmanned Planes Offer New Opportunities for Clandestine Government Tracking (August 2005)
- EPIC: Comments on "Unmanned Aircraft System Test Sites" (May 8, 2012)
- EPIC: Testimony on "Using Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the Homeland: Security Game Changer?" (July 19, 2012)
- EPIC: Testimony on "Impact of Domestic Use of Drone Technology on Privacy and Constitutional Rights of All Americans (October 25, 2012)
- House of Representatives: Subcommittee Hearing: "Using Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the Homeland: Security Game Changer?" (July 19, 2012)
- Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus: Press Release: Congressman McKeon Shares Concerns with FAA over Unmanned System Integration into the National Airspace (Aug. 7, 2012)
- Federal Aviation Administration: Letter from Michael P. Huerta to Congressman McKeon (Nov. 1, 2012)
- Federal Aviation Administration: Umanned Aircraft Systems
- Federal Aviation Administration: FAA Advisory Circular 91-57
- Federal Aviation Administration: Memorandum on Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations in the U.S. National Airspace System - Interim Operational Approval Guidance
- Federal Aviation Administration: Fact Sheet -- Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
- FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Public Law 112-95 (Signed February 14, 2012)
- 49 U.S.C. 44701 (Federal Aviation Administration Enabling Act)
- 14 C.F.R. 91.319 (Operational Limitations for Experimental Certificates)
- GovTrack: Drone Bills in Congress
- Federal Register: Unmanned Aircraft System Test Sites, Proposed Rule and Public Comments (May 8, 2012)
- Federal Register: Unmanned Aircraft Operations in the National Airspace System (February 13, 2007)
- Federal Register: Department of Transportation Department Regulatory Agenda (seeking a rule to allow small unmanned aircraft to safely operate in limited portions of the national airspace system) (July 7, 2011)
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Overview
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Proposal to Enter Into a Contract Modification to Increase the Contract Ceiling on a Basis Other Than Full and Open Competition
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Privacy Impact Assessment for Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety (RAPS) Project
- Congressional Research Service: Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses (Sept. 6, 2012)
- Congressional Research Service: Pilotless Drones: Background and Considerations for Congress Regarding Unmanned Aircraft Operations in the National Airspace (Sept. 10, 2012)
- Government Accountability Office: Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Federal Actions Needed to Ensure Safety and Expand Their Potential Uses Within the National Airspace System (May 2008)
- Government Accountability Office: Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Measuring Progress and Addressing Potential Privacy Concerns Would Facilitate Integration into the National Airspace System (Sept. 18, 2012)
- NOVA: Time Line of UAVs
- National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers: Domestic Drone Information Center
- Stanford Law Review: the Drone as Privacy Catalyst (M. Ryan Calo, December 12, 2011)
- EFF: FAA Releases Lists of Drone Certificates: Many Questions Left Unanswered (April 19, 2012)
- CDT: Drone Countdown (March 27, 2012)
- Rutherford Institute: Letter to Congress on Model State Legislation to Protect Privacy in the Age of Drone Technology (Oct. 22, 2012)
- MuckRock: Drone Watch
- Motherboard: This Drone Zoom Lens Can Identify Your Face From 1,000 Feet Away (February 25, 2015)
- Morning Consult: Homeland Security's Possible Side Fight: Domestic Surveillance (January 9, 2015)
- MarketWatch: Opinion: Privacy and Drones Need to be Addressed (December 15, 2014)
- The Record: Drones on Many Holiday Wish Lists, Raising Concerns (December 7, 2014)
- Vice News: More Drones on US Borders Create Privacy Concerns for Its Neighbors (November 14, 2014)
- Al Jazeera America: FAA Says It's Behind Schedule on Guidelines for Drones in US
- National Journal: Senator Pushes for Protection From Drones' Prying Eyes (November 5, 2013)
- PetaPixel: California Updates Invasion of Privacy Law to Ban the Use of Camera Drones (October 14, 2014)
- Al Jazeera: Q&A: Privacy implications for aerial drones (October 14, 2013)
- WITN: Drone Driver Licenses? How To Make Flying Robots Safe For American Skies (October 13, 2013)
- Baltimore Sun: State vies to be FAA drone test site (September 14, 2013)
- Fox News: Drone use tightly limited for Texas residents, but new law makes big exception for police (September 14, 2013)
- Slate Future Tense: Banishing the Word Drone Won't Solve the Unmanned Vehicle Industry's Real Problems (August 16, 2013)
- New American: Rand Paul Opposes New FBI Director, and FBI’s U.S. Surveillance Drones (August 2, 2013)
- the Verge: The FBI has used drones for warrantless surveillance in the US in 10 different cases (July 26, 2013)
- USA Today: Concerns rise about growing use of domestic drones (July 18, 2013)
- Bloomberg Businessweek: Dear FBI: Keep Guns Off Your Drones, Please. Yours, Congress (July 2, 2013)
- Forbes: Now Police Are Shooting Down Drones (June 26, 2013)
- Los Angeles Times: FBI uses drones inside U.S. for spying, director says (June 19, 2013)
- Washington Post: Can state laws protect you from being watched by drones? (June 18, 2013)
- Wall Street Journal: Drones Play Peacetime Role with Flood Coverage (June 12, 2013)
- KATU: Ore. Senate passes bill regulating police drones (June 10, 2013)
- Fox News: Iowa lawmakers move to ban drones, red light cameras, license plate readers (June 5, 2013)
- Bloomberg Businessweek: German Railway Operator Deploys Drones in War on Graffiti Artists (May 29, 2013)
- KUNC: Udall Backs Bill To Protect Americans From Drone Surveillance (May 24, 2013)
- New York Times: F.A.A.’s Concerns Hold Up Use of Wildfire Drones (May 21, 2013)
- ComputerWorld UK: Texas drone bill sparks a battle (May 17, 2013)
- Washington Post: Civilian drones raise privacy concerns, lawmakers get mixed advice on what to do about them (May 17, 2013)
- CBS News: The drone next door (May 17, 2013)
- Seattle PI: Peeping drones in Seattle? Report raising privacy worries (May 14, 2013)
- International Business Times: Drones: Coming Soon To The New Jersey Turnpike? (May 13, 2013)
- CNET: Your Very Own Drone, to Follow You Home (May 11, 2013)
- New York Times: A Drone’s-Eye View of Nature (May 6, 2013)
- ComputerWorld: Florida restricts use of drones by law enforcement officials (May 6, 2013)
- Slate: Privacy Concerns Shouldn't Ground Journalism Drones (May 3, 2013)
- Huffington Post: Boston Bombings Show Future Use For Police Drones (May 1, 2013)
- Miami Herald: Immigration plan would add drones, already under scrutiny, to border security (Apr. 29, 2013)
- Associated Press: Bills aim to protect privacy as drone age dawns (Apr. 28, 2013)
- New York Times: Mayoral Candidates Quizzed on Use of Drones (Apr. 26, 2013)
- US News and World Report: House Judiciary Chairman: Congress Needs to Consider Restricting Drones (Feb. 27, 2013)
- NPR: As Police Drones Take Off, Washington State Pushes Back (Feb. 22, 2013)
- CNET: Homeland Security: Let's be clear about aerial drone privacy (Feb. 22, 2013)
- The Dissenter: Restricting Drones Before Use of the Technology for Total Surveillance Becomes Normal (Feb. 20, 2013)
- Bloomberg: Ohio Plans Drones to Hunt Lost Kids as They Bring Jobs (Feb. 18, 2013)
- New York Times (Opinion): Drones for America (Feb. 18, 2013)
- PC World: Drones a target of U.S. House bill (Feb. 16, 2013)
- Palm Beach Post: Will drones hover freely over Florida? (Feb. 10, 2013)
- New York Times: Lawmakers Aim to Limit Drones and Safeguard Privacy (Feb. 2, 2013)
- Extreme Tech: DARPA shows off 1.8-gigapixel surveillance drone, can spot a terrorist from 20,000 feet (Jan. 28, 2013)
- The Dissenter: "Rise of the Drones" Is Mostly a PBS Infomercial for the Military Defense Industry (Jan. 24, 2013)
- Washington Times: If you've ever wanted to evade overhead surveillance drones (Jan. 23, 2013)
- Daily Press: Lawmakers want protections against drone surveillance (Jan. 22, 2013)
- Digital Journal: New York City police eye drones for surveillance purposes (Jan. 17, 2013)
- Orlando Sentinel: Anti-drone bill passes Senate panel (Jan. 16, 2013)
- The Hill: Leahy warns that police drones threaten privacy (Jan. 16, 2013)
- MuckRock: Montgomery County, TX drone too heavy to fly under FAA rules (Jan. 16, 2013)
- The Dissenter: A Future World Where Drones Engage in Wholesale Surveillance & Dominate US Airspace (Jan. 15, 2013)
- U.S. News: Drone Moans (Jan. 15, 2013)
- CNN Money: Drones go mainstream (Jan. 9, 2013)
- New American: North Dakota Rep Set to Propose Bill Limiting Drone Use (Jan. 6, 2013)
- Washington Times: Homeland Security increasingly lending drones to local police (Dec. 10, 2012)
- Stateman Journal: Guard drones could launch airport into new era (Dec. 30, 2012)
- Reuters: Seattle police plan for helicopter drones hits severe turbulence (Nov. 27, 2012)
- San Francisco Chronicle: Push to step up domestic use of drones (Nov. 27, 2012)
- Current: "Drone Caucus" members awash in industry cash (Nov. 26, 2012)
- New York Times: Freeway Drones for a Futuristic Highway Patrol (Nov. 21, 2012)
- New American: DHS Inks $443 Million Deal to Buy More Drones (Nov. 21, 2012)
- The Houston Chronicle: Use of drones in community policing 'unchartered territory' (Oct. 25, 2012)
- Network World: NASA exploring $1.5 million unmanned aircraft competition (Oct. 17, 2012)
- Huffington Post World: Drones In U.S.: More Unmanned Aircraft Will Be Flying In Domestic Airspace By 2015 (VIDEO) (Sept. 19, 2012)
- Examiner: Drone use expands to TV stations, undermines public safety, privacy (Sept. 5, 2012)
- Las Vegas Review-Journal: Agency working on code for drones amid privacy concerns (Aug. 31, 2012)
- ACLU: Republican Party Platform Advocates Regulation of Drone Surveillance (Aug. 31, 2012)
- USA Today: Talk of drones patrolling U.S. skies spawns anxiety (June 20, 2012)
- CNN: Don't let drones invade our privacy (June 15, 2012)
- Wired Danger Room: Revealed: 64 Drone Bases on American Soil (June 13, 2012)
- Secrecy News: Senate: Drones Need to Operate "Freely and Routinely" in U.S. (June 8, 2012)
- Daily Caller: EPA Justifies Spying on Farmers, Claims There are No Drones (June 7, 2012)
- Bloomberg: Drones Take to American Skies on Police, Search Missions (May 31, 2012)
- WTOP: Gov.: Drones over Va. 'great'; cites battlefield success (May 29, 2012)
- The Atlantic: Don't Let John Yoo Talk You Into Domestic Drone Use by Police (May 25, 2012)
- Huffington Post: Drone Program Aims to 'Accelerate' Use of Unmanned Aircraft by Police (May 22, 2012)
- Secrecy News: USAF Drones May Conduct "Incidental" Domestic Surveillance (May 8, 2012)
- Los Angeles Times: Police departments wait for FAA clearance to fly drones (April 29, 2012)
- Salon: The drones are coming — to America (April 10, 2012)
- Forbes: A Primer on Domestic Drones: Legal, Policy, and Privacy Implications (April 10, 2012)
- Boston Globe: As drones spread, privacy issues grow (April 2, 2012)
- Bloomberg: Drones in U.S. Need to Fly Within Privacy Rules (March 14, 2012)
- Wired: Drones, Dogs, and the Future of Privacy (March 8, 2012)
- Cleveland.com: Drones' Domestic Uses Raise Privacy Concerns (March 7, 2012)
- Gizmodo: Police Drone Crashes into Police (March 5, 2012)
- San Francisco Gate: Privacy at Issue as Drones Take on Civilian Tasks (March 3, 2012)
- The Daily Caller: Outside Group Presses FAA Against Drone Expansion (February 27, 2012)
- Scientific American: High-Altitude Surveillance Drones: Coming to a Sky Near You (February 24, 2012)
- Network World: Smile for the Drone: Coming to a Police Station Near You Soon (February 24, 2012)
- The Atlantic: Why Drones May Bring a Renaissance, Not Erosion, of Privacy (February 21, 2012)
- New York Times: Drones Set Sights on U.S. Skies (February 17, 2012)
- Scientific American: Here Come the Drones (January 10, 2012)
- Wired: Almost 1 In 3 U.S. Warplanes Is a Robot (January 9, 2012)
- Slate: Drones Now Make Up Nearly One-Third of U.S. Military Aircraft (January 9, 2012)
- Forbes: When Drones Attack (Video) (January 9, 2012)
- The National Ledger: North Dakota Predator? Cows Recovered with Drone, Domestic Spy Plane Assists in Arrests (December 14, 2011)
- The Big Picture: Are Predator Drones Watching You? (Video) (December 13, 2011)
- Huffington Post: Why Drones Could End up Being Good for Privacy Law (December 13, 2011)
- Los Angeles Times: Police Employ Predator Plane Spy Drones on Home Front (December 10, 2011)
- New York Times: D.E.A. Squads Extend Reach of Drug War (November 6, 2011)
- Al Jazeera: Fighting Back Against the CIA Drone War (July 30, 2011)
- Wired: U.S. Drones Are Now Sniffing Mexican Drugs (March 16, 2011)
- CBS News: Dade Cops Waiting To Get Crime Fighting Drone Airborne (March 9, 2011)
- Reuters: How the White House Learned to Love the Drone (May 19, 2010)
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