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Civil liberties group calls for privacy protections involving domestic drones

By Jim Barnett, CNN
updated 6:57 AM EST, Thu December 15, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police and law enforcement agencies want to use drones more
  • The ACLU says drone use could easily lead to police fishing expeditions
  • Group says rules will allow the use of drones without the worry about its darker potentials

Washington (CNN) -- A leading organization advocating individual rights is recommending new rules and limits to protect the privacy of Americans in advance of expected expanded use of domestic drones by police and other law enforcement agencies.

In a report released Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union recommends drones not be deployed indiscriminately unless there are grounds to believe the unmanned aerial planes will collect evidence about a specific crime, adding government power "needs to be subject to checks and balances."

The report called for a system of rules to effectively use the technology "without bringing us a large step closer to a 'surveillance society' in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the authorities."

"The prospect of cheap, flying video surveillance cameras will likely open the floodgates," said Jay Stanley, the report's co-author and senior policy analyst with the ACLU.

The ACLU says next month the FAA is expected to propose new rules to make it easier for law enforcement to gain permission to use drones in the United States, which could lead to expanded use by local police departments and other agencies.

"If we can set some good privacy ground rules, our society can enjoy the benefits of this technology without having to worry about its darker potentials," the report said.

The ACLU points out there are already regulations imposed on law enforcement, for example requiring officials to get a warrant to take thermal images of someone's home.

The report calls for rules, limits and regulations on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones. It recommends restrictions on how unmanned aircraft are used and procedures for the retention of images of identifiable individuals.

The ACLU says drones are currently used by some law enforcement agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and police departments in Texas, Florida and Colorado. The courts should impose limits on the use of drones for surveillance, prohibiting them from becoming pervasive, according to the report.

"The deployment of drone technology domestically could easily lead to police fishing expeditions and invasive, all encompassing surveillance that would seriously erode the privacy that we have always had as Americans," said Catherine Crump, ACLU's other co-author.

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