End the Lie

Rep. Ted Poe says House Judiciary Committee could move to limit drone spying over United States

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By End the Lie

Rep. Ted Poe (Image credit: Official House portrait)

Rep. Ted Poe (Image credit: Official House portrait)

Representative Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, said that he thinks the House Judiciary Committee could move to regulate the use of drones for surveillance over the United States after a conversation with Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, potentially assisting nationwide efforts to regulate drone use.

This is incredibly important given the fact that drones are already being used quite often in the U.S., the military is sharing data captured by drones with law enforcement, the Pentagon identified 110 potential drone bases in the U.S., the National Guard uses drones in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security has embraced small spy drones, and even the Federal Aviation Administration realizes there are significant privacy concerns.

Poe said that he discussed the privacy risks inherent in the use of drones domestically with Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, on Tuesday, according to The Hill.

“I think that’s on his agenda, to have some kind of drone legislation during the Congress,” said Poe after an event at the National Press Club held to discuss drones.

An aide also told The Hill that the issue is a priority for Goodlatte as he begins his first term as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

During the last session of Congress, Poe penned the Preserving American Privacy Act, which would have restricted drone use to law enforcement agencies and would require them to be investigating a felony.

While this falls far short of the mark many would hope for in that it doesn’t outright block law enforcement from using drones unless a probable cause warrant has been issued, one might argue that it’s better than nothing.

Poe stated that he plans to re-introduce legislation similar to that he introduced last session in concert with another member of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat.

“I think what we need to do is make sure there are some definite guidelines for law enforcement,” Poe said.

However, Poe said that the legislation should include exceptions allowing police to conduct surveillance without obtaining a warrant during emergencies.

While such an exception could be viable, it would require explicit definition of the types of emergencies in which warrantless surveillance could be conducted. Even then, it would likely be easily abused.

“It’s my opinion that Congress should take the lead on this issue, rather than wait for cases to occur, and those cases end up in different courts throughout the country,” Poe said.

During the discussion at the National Press Club, a panel of legal scholars and privacy experts pointed out the ambiguity of the constitutional limits on drone surveillance which would – or arguably would not – be imposed by courts in the future.

“Traditionally, courts have granted people limited privacy protections when they are in public spaces,” writes Brendan Sasso for The Hill. “The persistent tracking made possible by drones poses new constitutional questions for the courts, the experts said.”

The scholars pointed out that drones can be combined with facial recognition technology, cell phone tapping and tracking, along with thermal imaging to further endanger privacy.

“Gretchen West, executive vice president for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, a drone lobbying group, said that drones currently have only limited technical capabilities to conduct surveillance,” according to The Hill.

It’s worth noting that this is the same lobbying group that has bragged about taking a major role in crafting drone legislation.

Indeed, even The Hill reports that West “noted that her organization has created privacy guidelines for drone makers and argued that the FAA is poorly suited for regulating privacy issues.”

This same argument has been presented by a group of leaders in the aviation industry in a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in which they claimed that the FAA should only be concerned with safety rather than privacy.

Yet without strict privacy controls at the federal, state and local level, this radically invasive drone use will continue and can only get worse as time goes on.

“The current state of the law is inadequate to address the threat … as drone technology becomes cheaper, the threat to privacy will become more substantial,” said Amie Stepanovich, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, according to the Washington Times.

“This is a natural space for Congress to step in and say that we have a new technology, and we’re worried about its privacy implications,” said Orin Kerr, a professor of law at George Washington University Law School.

“Ultimately, we don’t have to accept new technologies and let them go and see how they work. We can try and regulate the privacy implications at the outset,” Kerr added.

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3 Responses to Rep. Ted Poe says House Judiciary Committee could move to limit drone spying over United States

  1. Anonymous January 16, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    unfortunately I dont think itll ever happen knowing our “representatives” and their corrupt ways.

    • mikey January 16, 2013 at 2:24 PM

      you’re probably right but let’s hope you’re wrong. we can hope, righT??!

  2. Nora January 16, 2013 at 6:49 PM

    Hoping won’t get ‘er gone, folks. Take a few minutes and call your state rep or senator, or shoot him an email, fax or letter. Make the fact that your privacy is important to you known. We have to push back against these incremental assaults to our rights.


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