09/28/2012

A third of public fears police use of drones

Nearly half the public, 44 percent, supports allowing police forces inside the U.S. to use unmanned aerial vehicles

San Angelo Standard-Times

WASHINGTON — More than a third of Americans worry their privacy will suffer if drones like those used to spy on U.S. enemies overseas become the latest police tool for tracking suspected criminals at home, according to an Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll.

Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with safety regulations that will clear the way for routine domestic use of unmanned aircraft within the next three years. The government is under pressure from a wide range of interests to open U.S. skies to drones. Oil companies want them to monitor pipelines. Environmentalists want them to count sea lions on remote islands. Farmers want them to fly over crops with sensors that can detect which fields are wet and which need watering. They're already being used to help fight forest fires. And the list goes on.

Manufacturers are also keen to cash in on what they expect to be a burgeoning new drone market. Government and commercial drone-related expenditures are forecast to total $89 billion worldwide over the next decade. On the leading edge of that new market are state and local police departments, who say that in many cases drones are cheaper, more practical and more effective than manned aircraft. Most of them would be small drones, generally weighing less than 55 pounds. They could be used, for example, to search for missing children or to scout a location ahead of a SWAT team.

But privacy advocates caution that drones equipped with powerful cameras, including the latest infrared cameras that can "see" through walls, listening devices and other information-gathering technology raise the specter of a surveillance society in which the activities of ordinary citizens are monitored and recorded by the authorities.

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