Thursday, September 13, 2012

Texas Congressman pushing restrictions on law enforcement's use of drones without warrant

A Texas Congressman has introduced legislation to restrict the use of aerial drones by federal law enforcement without a warrant. Here's a description of the legislation from a recent report (pdf) by the Congressional Research Service:
Representative Ted Poe’s Preserving American Privacy Act of 2012 (H.R. 6199) would restrict the domestic use of drones. It would only permit use of drones by law enforcement pursuant to a warrant and in the investigation of a felony. Any search would be subject to the\ same limitations and exceptions as apply in the jurisdiction where the search is conducted. There is an express exclusionary provision so that evidence obtained in violation of the act would be inadmissible in a federal criminal prosecution. Such evidence would also be excluded from administrative hearings. Additionally, no federal agency may permit a private entity from [sic] monitoring an individual. The bill has an exception for searches conducted within 25 miles of the national border.
Bully for Congressman Poe! The bill has 25 cosponsors in the House including four other GOP Texas congressmen: Michael Burgess, John Culberson, Louie Gohmert, and Francisco 'Quico' Canseco. Acording to the CRS report:
Although relatively few drones are currently flown over U.S. soil, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that 30,000 drones will fill the nation’s skies in less than 20 years. Congress has played a large role in this expansion. In February 2012, Congress enacted the FAA Modernization and Reform Act (P.L. 112-95), which calls for the FAA to accelerate the integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system by 2015. However, some Members of Congress and the public fear there are insufficient safeguards in place to ensure that drones are not used to spy on American citizens and unduly infringe upon their fundamental privacy. These observers caution that the FAA is primarily charged with ensuring air traffic safety, and is not adequately prepared to handle the issues of privacy and civil liberties raised by drone use.
The bill (see the text) would prohibit the FAA from approving drone use by law enforcement "including by any State or local government, except pursuant to warrant and in the investigation of a felony." The bill would also prohibit drone use by "any private person to conduct surveillance on any other private person without the consent of that other private person or the owner of any real property on which that other private person is present."

Grits sees no reason why this should be a partisan issue and hopes many more in Congress sign on. We've already seen state and local law enforcement agencies entering the drone market, so if the federal legislation doesn't pass, the Texas Legislature should follow Rep. Poe's lead and require warrants for use of drones by Texas state and local law enforcement and prohibit their use for surveillance by private individuals.

H/T: Fierce Homeland Security.

MORE: From Digital Trends, see: "Drones: 13 things you need to know from Congress' new report."

13 comments:

Vincent van Gogh said...

What's next cameras in everyones home with a feed running to the police station.

Anonymous said...

Darn good waste of money.

Retired LE

Anonymous said...

in Floridav Riley' and California v Ciraolo, the United States Supreme Court upheld the observation of the area near a home from an airplane or helicopter flying in public airspace.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:33, read the CRS report. They draw some distinctions vis a vis drone use. And in any event, if they pass a law, it trumps that ruling.

TexasPilot said...

I heard Harris County crashed their high-dollar toy some months ago.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

TexasPilot, I think that was actually Montgomery County who crashed their drone. Go here for a map of agencies authorized to use drones.

TexasPilot said...

You are correct. It was Montgomery County. I heard that thing was quite expensive. I also heard that they cut the training short for those who would be operating it.

Anonymous said...

Bully for Congressman Poe? You can't be serious. This is called "double-speak".

Poe is doing this to pander to those in the republican party who are still naive enough to think that the republican party holds the rights of Americans sacred. This will go nowhere and Ted Poe knows it. Privately, Poe supports a Police State and does all he can to pave the way for the law enforcement community.

Anonymous said...

Poe would not be pushing this law if a Republican was in the White House. But, regardless of why, it's a good thing.

However: "Any search would be subject to the\ same limitations and exceptions as apply in the jurisdiction where the search is conducted."

Under the guise of national security, there are very few limitations and exclusions that apply, so this will have no effect on that. And I'm not so sure that a Supreme Court ruling related to air space can be so easily overturned. Admittedly, it depends on the text of those rulings and the laws used by police at the time. But if you have no right to privacy in the airspace over your curtilage, then this law will not stop that. Or at least it is ripe for a dispute the first time they have a warrantless search with a drone.

Rage

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't care what Poe's motives are. I'm glad he filed it and hope it passes.

Rage, I did see that about searches "subject to the same limitations and exceptions as apply in the jurisdiction where the search is conducted." However, Poe's bill ADDS an element to those local laws that IMO is significant: "No Federal agency may authorize the domestic use of an unmanned aircraft ... for law enforcement purposes ... except pursuant to warrant and in the investigation of a felony."

The warrant requirement is a big deal, and IMO Congress does have authority to do it. They can't restrict the Fourth Amendment's protections beyond the minimum laid out by SCOTUS, but they're always free to expand those protections.

Anonymous said...

It won't pass, and I think you realize this. It's all a charade...

Anonymous said...

The drones were constantly having maintenance issues because they weren’t designed to land in a rocky environment like Texas and didn’t fly well in high winds so Texas DPS suspended their program.

Yes, we have high winds in Texas....lol

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/01/texas-department-public-safety-cancels-its-drone-program

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:25, as my father likes to say, can't never could. It certainly won't pass as long as Dems refuse to work across the aisle on the issue - all the cosponsors are Republicans. What have the Dems done on the subject besides defer to the Obama Administration, which wants to expand drone use by law enforcement? At least Poe filed the bill, and as I said I'd like to see Dems sign on as cosponsors and try to help pass it.