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Surveillance in the skies? Drones may come to New Jersey

The technological revolution continues seemingly unabated.

A few weeks ago, in a two-part post on December 17 and December 23, we wrote about New Jersey's "smart-gun" law. The discussion was prompted by the fact that the technology to make a personalized gun that recognizes the grip of its owner is very nearly feasible.

In this post, we will discuss another technological change that may be on the horizon: the use of drone aircraft in New Jersey for law enforcement purposes.

In the case of possible drones, then, when we say “on the horizon,” we mean that literally not only figuratively.

But the prospect of having unmanned planes in domestic air space cannot help but raise concerns about unreasonable search and seizure.

That is why a bill that recently passed in the state Assembly seeks to ensure that proper search warrant procedures are respected by drones that are used for law enforcement. Under the bill, police agencies would be required to go through the process of obtaining a search warrant before an unmanned drone even went up in the air to investigate something.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey already has the issue of aerial surveillance on its figurative radar. The ACLU wants to get good privacy protections in place now, rather than playing catch-up later – after the gathering of data on suspects from domestic drones may have become a more common practice for law enforcement agencies.

As we discussed in our November 20 post, the basic issue of what types of cellphone searches are permitted remains highly contested. The possible use of drones, however, raises the ante yet again on the tension between technology and privacy protections. 

This tension is present in many different types of cases, not just those involving allegations of Internet crime.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "Rise of the machines: 3 ways drones could be used in New Jersey," S.P. Sullivan, Jan. 13, 2014

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