Eyes in the sky and privacy concerns on the ground

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Date: Mar. 2016
From: Human Rights(Vol. 41, Issue 4)
Publisher: American Bar Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,332 words
Lexile Measure: 1370L

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A man is arrested for flying his drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) above a park near the White House. A woman in Miami, Florida, calls the police after seeing a drone outside the window of her downtown highrise apartment. Angry neighbors in one New Jersey community shoot down a drone they say was hovering too close to their property. These are just a few of the many incidents involving drones that have made headlines in the past year. In comparison with planes and helicopters, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) can pose unique threats to society's expectation of privacy. Pervasive unmanned aerial surveillance enables users to track the movements of large numbers of people simultaneously, zeroing in on people and places on the streets, in people's backyards, and even through open blinds in homes. The visual imagery gathered can be stored indefinitely, just like other digital data. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are readily portable and able to hover and fly at altitudes and in spaces manned aircraft simply cannot. Meanwhile, UAVs can be small enough that people on the ground are unaware they are being watched.

Moreover, the breadth and scope of the data a UAV can capture is far greater than traditional surveillance tools, setting these devices apart from planes and helicopters or even closed circuit television and satellite surveillance. The aerospace and robotics industries are developing the technology faster than lawmakers and courts can regulate them. Without legislative action limiting unmanned aircraft, the privacy Americans have enjoyed is threatened.

Proliferation of UAS

In 2012, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 112-95,126 Stat. 11, which required the FAA to promulgate regulations for the integration of UAVs into the national airspace. In addition, the law directs the agency to create a five-year road map. In 2013, it was estimated that by 2020 there could be as many as 30,000 UAS occupying national airspace, a significant portion owned and operated by law enforcement. The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations: Hearing Before the S. Comm. on the Judiciary, 113th Cong. 2 (2013) (statement of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman, S. Comm. on the Judiciary).

Because of the enhanced aerial perspective an unmanned system provides, law enforcement can amass large amounts of data about a target, as well as information on people and places about which the police have no particularized suspicion. Moreover, the expense of operating and maintaining UAVs is estimated at one-fifth that of operating and maintaining manned aircraft.

Interest in using unmanned aircraft in the civil and commercial arenas is growing exponentially. Amazon, one of the largest retail companies in the United States, has revealed its intention to use unmanned aircraft to deliver packages as soon as the regulations permit. Film production companies, real estate agencies, farmers, and videographers are keenly interested in conducting aerial photography with unmanned systems. The

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) has estimated that integrating UAVs into U.S. airspace would have an economic effect...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A450506837