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Domestic use of military drones brings up privacy questions: Part 1

An interesting article by Peter Finn recently published in The Washington Post discusses the increasing use of aerial drones in domestic law enforcement operations in the U.S. The practice of using the military technology in high-risk domestic tactical operations is still rare, but Finn writes that the practice is increasing as several law enforcement departments around the country begin trying out the drones in pilot programs.

Drones are lightweight, unmanned aircraft that can be flown undetected hundreds of feet above an area and provide surveillance information to people below. The drones have high-tech cameras that can send live video or photos to a computer on the ground. So far, the drones have been used to survey property to be raided for weapons or drug trafficking. The drones can give law enforcement information on the safest way to plan the raid and arrests.

At least one law enforcement agency decided against a pilot program after citizens in the community withdrew their support for the use of drones. The Houston Police Department admitted to citizens that it was exploring the use of drones for general urban monitoring in order to catch people for traffic violations, and the community was not supportive of that plan.

Police departments or other law enforcement agencies would need a warrant to spy on private homes, but it is less known what kind of surveillance drones can be used for in public spaces. It is likely drones will cause the courts to determine more closely what "public spaces" are. The next post will discuss a couple of previous court rulings on this topic.


Domestic use of aerial drones by law enforcement likely to prompt privacy debate (The Washington Post)

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