2014: More of the Same, Nothing New

Returning here after some time off for the New Year.


2014 … just 360 days or so and counting until unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAVs”) are set to integrate into the national airspace, or as the ACLU puts it, “poised to invade U.S. airspace.  This should be an interesting year indeed.

This year is beginning, it would seem, with more focus on the benefits of the commercial (as opposed to military) applications of UAVs.  That said, privacy continues to be a dominant theme.  The Senate Commerce Committee recently held hearings on the economic benefits and the safety, privacy, and First Amendment implications of UAVs, and featured this happening:

In an example of just how far this technology has come, [a representative of the ACLU] discussed one aerial surveillance system known as ARGUS-IS, which includes a super-high, 1.8 gigapixel resolution camera mounted on a drone, capable of high-resolution monitoring and recording of entire cities.

These concerns have caught senators’ attention. Nineteen of the Committee’s 25 members attended, and the hearing room was packed. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) opened the hearing with a story about waking up one morning to find a drone hovering outside her window. Senator Feinstein described how exposed she felt, having no idea what information it was collecting. Was it filming her? Was it listening? Where was it sending this information? She called on Congress to put in place strong privacy protections for Americans, including requiring a warrant for law enforcement’s use of drones. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) raised similar concerns regarding the potential for spying and the lack of transparency on what drones are collecting.

In an article about the proceedings, the ACLU goes on to say:

Deployed without proper regulation, drones equipped with facial recognition software, infrared technology, and speakers capable of monitoring personal conversations would cause real harms to our privacy rights. Interconnected drones could enable mass tracking of vehi­cles and people in wide areas. Imagine the personal information it could gather if deployed over a political rally or gun show. A tiny drone called the Hummingbird, developed for stealth surveillance, has a wingspan of only 6.5 inches and weighs less than a single AA battery. This could go completely unnoticed while peering into the window of a home or place of worship.

Not insignificant, that is for sure.  It will interesting to follow (and this blog will) how lawmakers at the federal and state levels work together (or not) to address these privacy concerns.  Amazon will have to rely on snail mail for now.