Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson on Friday blasted Congress for making the United States a "wide-open playground for government snooping."
Congress passed and Obama signed into law legislation to fund the Federal Aviation Administration through 2015. But the legislation also included provisions that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to use unmanned aerial vehicles within the United States.
“The threats to privacy in America – from our own government – seem to never end," Johnson said in a statement. "Does Congress really think they can just stick an ‘oh-by-the-way’ provision in an obscure piece of legislation directing the FAA to clear the way for 30,000 drones to fly over our neighborhoods, and have no one notice?"
The new law require the FAA to speed up the process by which it authorizes government agencies to operate drones. The law also requires the FAA to allow agencies to operate any drone weighing 4.4 pounds or less as long as it is operated within line of sight, during the day and below 400 feet in altitude.
“Big Brother is alive and well, and now we’re talking about making it easier for him to fly remote control planes loaded with cameras over our neighborhoods," Johnson added. "Based on our experience with the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and several other laws Congress has enacted in recent years, it is not alarmist to fear or assume that when we give the government the power to snoop, they will indeed snoop."
There are hundreds of different models of drones, from large fixed-wing aircraft to a tiny drone called the Nano Hummingbird. The drones employ a wide range of surveillance technology as well, including high-power zoom lenses, infrared and ultraviolet imaging, see-through imaging and video analytics.
“The government, through the FAA, already has the power to permit specific uses of drones, such as in fighting forest fires, looking for lost campers, or helping deal with natural disasters," Johnson added.
"And right now, they are being used to patrol the border. Some of those uses may be justified and legit, and the rules allow for that today. But directing the FAA to come up with a system that will allow federal, state and local law enforcement to deploy 30,000 drones is a very different proposition, and should absolutely not be allowed to proceed without a serious conversation about a very real threat to fundamental privacy."
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore