The Bipartisan Opposition to Domestic Drones

Drones are wildly popular on the battlefield. Now they can claim
victory elsewhere. The use of drones within U.S. borders—in car
chases, to monitor wildfires, or for simple surveillance—is uniting
political parties and people more often at odds.Their concern: the widespread use of drones among civilians
represents a deep and dangerous intrusion into American life.“What we used to know as privacy is finished,” said John
Whitehead, a constitutional scholar and president
of Virginia-based Rutherford Institute. “Big Brother is
here to stay.”Both the progressive American Civil Liberties
Union and the libertarian Rutherford Institute cheer
legislative efforts to place strict limits on unmanned aerial
vehicles, or UAVs. And, prodded by privacy groups, state lawmakers
nationwide—Republicans and Democrats alike—have launched an all-out
offensive against the unmanned aerial vehicles.And to think, only the prospect of complete upheaval of
America’s strong tradition of privacy rights spurs
bipartisanship.In at least 13 states, lawmakers this
year will examine bills to place strict limits on how
government entities can deploy drones. No state has embedded such
regulations into law.Drones are already everywhere—executing search-and-rescue
missions, tracking cattle rustlers, or monitoring wildfires with
minimal cost and little risk of loss of life.The Federal Aviation Administration listed 345 active
drone licenses as of November 2012. Congress has directed the
federal department to streamline the approval process. Starting in
2015, commercial entities—think entertainment news
outlet TMZ—will have easy access to drone permits.Analysts believe as many as 30,000 drones will populate American
skies by 2020.Canyon County, Idaho, already has one, a
camera-equipped Draganflyer X-6 it bought for $33.400
with federal grant money. About a year ago, Mesa County,
Colorado, used $14,000 to purchase its drone, a 4-foot-long,
9-pound plane that can maintain flight for about an hour.
The Seattle Police Department spent $41,000 in August for
its Draganflyer X-6.With the booming interest in the myriad uses of UAVs comes
nervous anxiety about the creep of the surveillance state.And that’s where state lawmakers and their allies come in.The Drone War BeginsEarly Tuesday, members of Montana’s Senate Judiciary
Committee assembled in the Capitol in Helena to hear
testimony on Senate Bill 150, a measure that would place tight
restrictions on UAVs in the Treasure State. If passed, the law
would prevent officials from using evidence obtained via drones and
would block the state or local governments from owning weaponized
UAVs. The law would allow victims of drone overreach to sue
offending parties personally and professionally.“The prospect of cheap, small, portable flying video
surveillance machines threatens to eradicate existing practical
limits on aerial monitoring and allow for pervasive surveillance,
police fishing expeditions and abusive use of these tools in way
that could eliminate the privacy Americans have traditionally
enjoyed in their movements and activities,” the bill’s
author, Sen. Robyn Driscoll, a Democrat from Billings,
testified.

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The Bipartisan Opposition to Domestic Drones

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