Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation on Tuesday that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct surveillance without a warrant.
“I’m not against technology per se,” he explained on CNN. “What I am for are the constitutional processes that protect our civil liberties. So, you know, it’s not like I’m against the police using cars or against them using airplanes or helicopters or robots. But I am for personal privacy for saying that no policeman will ever do this without asking a judge for permission.”
This year’s Federal Aviation Administration funding bill contained provisions that made it easier for law enforcement agencies to use drones within the United States. The new law requires 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.
The American Civil Liberties Union has warned the law could usher in an “era of aerial surveillance.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that the Fourth Amendment did not categorically prohibit warrantless aerial surveillance of private property. The cost of purchasing, operating and maintaining aircraft imposed a natural limit on aerial surveillance. With the advent of drones, however, the ACLU doesn’t see law enforcement agencies being held back by the costs.
“A drone is a very, very powerful way of snooping on behavior,” Paul noted.
His Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act of 2012 would require the government to obtain a warrant before using drones to conduct surveillance. However, the government would not be required to obtain a warrant to use drones to patrol the national borders, when swift action was necessary to prevent “imminent danger to life,” or if there was determined to be a high risk of a terrorist attack.
“What I would say is that drones can be used if you have a proper warrant,” Paul told CNN. “But that means you go through a judge. A judge has to say there is probable cause of a crime. But I don’t want drones roaming across, crisscrossing our cities and our country snooping on Americans. And that’s the surveillance state that I’m very concerned about. And that’s what our bill would stop.”
Watch video, uploaded to YouTube on June 12, below:
[Image via Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons licensed]