House bill would require warrants for aerial surveillance

House bill would require warrants for aerial surveillance
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A House bill introduced on Thursday would require federal law enforcement officials to get a warrant if they want to conduct aerial surveillance inside the country.

It would also forbid them from identifying people who are inadvertently captured by aerial surveillance.

The measure, dubbed the Protecting Individuals From Mass Aerial Surveillance Act, is sponsored by Rep. Suzan DelBeneSuzan DelBeneDems on tax reform outreach: Talk is cheap Surveillance reform déjà vu Congress must stop soft ‘earmarking’ in Pentagon spending bill MORE (D-Wash.).

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“Just because technological advances have made it easier for the federal government to collect information doesn’t mean that our privacy rights can or should be violated on the ground or in the air,” DelBene said in a statement. “Congress has an obligation to clear the legal fog by passing my bill to require the federal government to obtain a warrant if it wants to conduct aerial surveillance.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Ted PoeTed PoeKudos for backing US-Cuba reset House bill threatens Russia with nuclear treaty suspension For the sake of police, don’t back the Back the Blue Act MORE (R-Texas), Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Do we really want to give Trump a new nuke? Medical marijuana patients need an antidote for Jeff Sessions MORE (D-Ore.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.). A related bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this year.

It comes amid growing concerns about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s use of aircraft to conduct surveillance of Americans.

Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI had attached so-called stingray devices small airplanes. The devices simulate cellphone towers and are able to collect information about cellphones around them.

Then, in June, the FBI said that it was operating a fleet of planes. The Associated Press reported that they were carrying cameras and the stingrays. The FBI told the AP at the time that the aircraft "are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance."

Since then, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have both instituted policies that require their officers to obtain warrants before using the cell site simulators.

But some privacy advocates have said that exemptions contained in the policies make it too easy for agencies to still use the devices without a warrant.