The EFF has issued an appeal to local governments to institute privacy protections against the misuse of drones by local law enforcement agencies. The FAA's initial rules for allowing flying robots into the National Airspace System were announced on 14 May. Many law enforcement agencies are already obtaining and flying drones but they're not likely to volunteer that information. It took an EFF Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to make the FAA release the list of who has been approved to fly spy drones over US cities. When local newspapers in Seattle found out from the EFF that police had purchased two drones and made survellience plans without informing the City Council, the Washington ACLU called for the city to develop policies to safeguard privacy and free speech rights. The police backed down
"With drones - and the privacy questions they raise - thrown into the public spotlight in that way, a contrite assistant police chief appeared before the Seattle City Council this week to assure city leaders and the public that the drones would not be deployed until written policies for their use are in place. He promised that police would work with the ACLU and others in the community to draft them."
There is also a safety concern as increasingly massive robots are flying over heavily populated areas. At least one police department crashed their shiny new $300k surveillance drone into their own SWAT vehicle during a test flight. There's no disputing the legitimate uses of domestic flying robots by government agencies, including first response to accident scenes, search and rescue, agricultural uses, forest fire monitoring. But concerns are being raised over the increasing militarization of US police departments and increasing abuses of power. If city-level governments refuse to address privacy concerns, will it fall to private individuals to launch their own UAVs to watch the watchers? Find out if your local police have already deployed flying robots to spy on you by checking the EFF's Domestic Drone Authorization map.
CC BY-SA licensed image from flickr user Marion Doss