Drones have already been deployed across several US states, but thousands of UAVs could soon be flying all across the country for surveillance purposes that some privacy advocates consider unconstitutional.
The Federal Aviation Administration has received at least 60 applications for drone employment in the US and this month approved 348 drones for domestic use. Most of the currently employed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used along the Mexican border to help law enforcement officers crack down on illegal immigration, but some drones will soon be used to monitor civilians.
The sheriff’s office in Orange County, Fl., has already experimented with two domestic surveillance drones that it plans to use over metro Orlando starting this summer, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The drones would not be armed, but would be used to track down criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants, as well as be used for environmental monitoring and wildfire surveillance, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
The FAA predicts that 30,000 UAVs will fly over the US in less than 20 years, which has alarmed privacy advocates who claim the drones are a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against ‘unreasonable searches’.
“This is unwise and unnecessary. … Sheriffs are supposed to be sheriffs, not the US Army,” said Doug Head, a Democratic activist who closely follows Orange County politics.
“It’s really easy to increase public surveillance. But when the inevitable problems arise, it’s much harder to bring them back,” said Baylor Johnson, a Miami-based spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Nationwide, about a dozen law enforcement agencies have or are using a drone for surveillance purposes already. Some legislators have attempted to place restrictions on the UAVs to protect their constituents’ privacy. Florida state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, introduced a bill to limit the use of drones and allow their employment only when the federal government predicts a terrorist attack, to collect evidence in criminal cases where a search warrant has been approved, and during hostage-taking situations.
“I don’t think [drones] should be used to spy on American citizens,” Negron told USA Today, adding that the UAVs are“fine for killing terrorists.”