Skip to main content

Drone use in U.S. may require new laws, Senate panel told

By Carol Cratty, CNN Senior Producer
updated 7:06 AM EDT, Thu March 21, 2013
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator UAV assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing flies near the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, on January 7, 2012. A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator UAV assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing flies near the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California, on January 7, 2012.
HIDE CAPTION
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
Military drones
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Increasing use of drones in U.S. raises privacy concerns at Senate hearing
  • Their use may require new definition of unreasonable search, Sen. Grassley says
  • Drone industry expert says the FAA has strict rules about using the aircraft
  • Drones also used for tracking crops, livestock and surveying buildings in U.S.

Washington (CNN) -- Drones both dazzled and worried senators at a hearing Wednesday about their use within the United States, and lawmakers and experts said that new legislation may be needed to protect the privacy and safety of citizens.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, held and studied a small plane weighing just 2 pounds before beginning the hearing.

"I am convinced that the domestic use of drones to conduct surveillance and collect other information will have a broad and significant impact on the everyday lives of millions of Americans," said Leahy.

Pentagon offers high honor for drone ops
Dronestagram is a social-media effort to document, using Google Earth images, the locations of deadly U.S. drone strikes. This photo shows a pair of mud-built houses in northwest Pakistan where a drone strike was reported on February 8, according to Dronestagram. Local sources reported six drones hovering in the sky at the time of the attack, the site says. Dronestagram is a social-media effort to document, using Google Earth images, the locations of deadly U.S. drone strikes. This photo shows a pair of mud-built houses in northwest Pakistan where a drone strike was reported on February 8, according to Dronestagram. Local sources reported six drones hovering in the sky at the time of the attack, the site says.
The Images of Dronestagram
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
The Images of Dronestagram The Images of Dronestagram
CNN Explains: Drones
The lightweight Sixton-A drone produced by Italian firm Alpi Aviation. The lightweight Sixton-A drone produced by Italian firm Alpi Aviation.
Sixton-A
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
Drone-makers vie for slice of civilian airspace Drone-makers vie for slice of civilian airspace

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the panel, said the technology may require lawmakers to develop a new definition of an unreasonable search, which is banned under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment.

Opinion: Don't give medals for drone attacks

"The thought of government drones buzzing overhead monitoring the activities of law-abiding citizens runs contrary to the notion of what it means to live in a free society," Grassley said. The small aircraft can be fitted with lightweight cameras.

Amie Stepanovich, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said law enforcement should not use drones as an alternative to police patrols. She said that they should be used for specific operations and that Congress should pass a law requiring legal permission.

"I think we do need to enforce a warrant requirement for drones in circumstances where they're collecting criminal evidence," Stepanovich said. She said exceptions could be made for emergencies.

"With the ease and availability of drones, I think there is a real concern that the day-to-day conduct of American citizens going about their business might be monitored, catalogued and recorded by the federal government," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Privacy laws need to be updated to account for drones and other new technologies, according to Ryan Calo, of the University of Washington Law School.

Five questions: Targeting Americans on U.S. soil

"There's very little in American privacy law that would limit the domestic use of drones for surveillance," Calo said. Calo said he thinks the aircraft can be extremely beneficial but warned that Americans may oppose their use unless there are some limits.

An industry representative said the federal government already is regulating unmanned aircraft systems, the name industry uses for the aircraft.

"The (Federal Aviation Administration) strictly regulates who, where, when and why unmanned aircraft will be flown," said Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. He said operators of planes must get a certificate of authorization from the FAA, and the craft are to be flown under 400 feet and primarily in daytime hours.

The FAA is supposed to allow widespread use of domestic drones in 2015. There is only limited use by civilians at present. Because they are cheaper to use than helicopters, unmanned aircraft can be used to monitor crops and livestock, look at damage to buildings and for other uses. The FAA recently announced plans to create six drone test sites around the country.

The Mesa County Sheriff''s Office in Colorado already uses drones. Benjamin Miller said the craft can help find missing people and photograph crime scenes. Miller noted it's not legal to arm domestic drones.

"It may well not be legal to carry any munitions on a drone," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California. "But what can be done illegally, and how can the government prevent that from happening?"

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, expressed concern that as drones are more commonly used, they could be involved in accidents. "What would happen if one of them hit a small plane?" asked Klobuchar. "Like when birds hit a plane, it can create problems."

Toscano replied, "If there were a collision, then there could be damage."

Drone came within 200 feet of airliner over New York

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:23 AM EST, Mon November 18, 2013
Apart from what they do for the military; drones have already proven themselves capable sheep herders, delivery boys, tour guides, filmmakers, archaeologists, and -- possibly -- spies.
updated 9:32 AM EST, Fri December 6, 2013
The evolution of drones continues.
updated 8:47 AM EST, Wed November 20, 2013
Flying robot Skycall guides a student around MIT.
It's your first day at university and you've got 15 minutes to get to room 9-209. Easy, right?
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Fri July 19, 2013
Deer Trail, a small Colorado town, is considering a measure that would allow its residents to hunt for federal drones and shoot them down.
updated 3:24 PM EST, Tue November 12, 2013
The Federal Aviation Administration's "Road Map" to integrate drones into civilian airspace by 2015 has provoked strong reactions from privacy advocates.
updated 3:19 AM EDT, Fri October 25, 2013
Years of aiming missiles at people on the other side of the world left Brandon Bryant a broken man.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Wed November 6, 2013
"Live every week like it's Shark Week." Those immortal words come not from the Discovery Channel's marketing department but from Tracy Morgan on "30 Rock."
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Tue August 6, 2013
Click through our gallery to learn more about the varied appearances of drones.
updated 9:16 PM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
Catch up on everything you need to know about drones.
updated 10:51 AM EST, Fri March 8, 2013
Drone warfare has always been a controversial method of war. But it became virtually sensational during the heated discussion over John Brennan's nomination to be CIA chief.
updated 8:20 AM EDT, Thu July 12, 2012
Drone sixton-a
Drones are currently a growth industry in the aviation sector, with scores of new companies competing for a slice of the market.
updated 3:43 PM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
Here are some key facts about the U.S. drone program, including how and when they are used, and where.
updated 11:12 AM EST, Fri February 15, 2013
The use of drones to carry out military strikes is controversial, to say the least.
updated 9:23 AM EST, Sat February 23, 2013
A list of 22 techniques for evading drone strikes shows that militants are trying to share their knowledge and reduce the number of casualties that American attacks are costing them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT