Who Controls Drones Flying Within the U.S.? EFF Sues to Find Out
The close to 7,000 U.S. drones controlled by the Pentagon have been used successfully by the U.S. military to track Osama Bin-Laden before he was killed and in killing over 1,900 insurgents in Pakistani's tribal area. These Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, sometimes referred to as drones because they are pilot-less aircraft controlled remotely, are becoming more frequent tools in border patrol operations and law enforcement within the U.S., but there is little known about who has been authorized to operate drones domestically.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the Department of Transportation (DOT) in April of 2011, but the DOT has yet to respond to the request. This week, according to BuzzBlog and the EFF Deep Links blog, the EFF filed suit against the U.S. DOT to find out who the Federal Aviation Administration, which reports to the DOT, has authorized to control these vehicles.
Drones have been used domestically to find missing persons, catch drug dealers and patrol the U.S. borders. There are few restrictions on surveillance from above, as the EFF points out:
As Ryan Calo, the ACLU (pdf) and many others have noted, Supreme Court case law has not been friendly to privacy in the public sphere, or even to privacy in areas like your backyard or corporate facilities that are off-limits to the public but can be viewed from above. The Supreme Court has also held that the Fourth Amendment’s protections from unreasonable searches and seizures may not apply when it’s not a human that is doing the searching.
In addition to the legal privacy issues, drones have been hacked in the past using $25.95 worth of software. The first step in regulating something is public awareness of the fact that it is actually being used; only then can we undertake the policy process of determining when and how Americans want to allow constant, nearly invisible, hackable surveillance.
picture credit:The MQ-1 Predator U.S. Air Force