Leahy warns that police drones threaten privacy

Leahy warns that police drones threaten privacy
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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyPassing US-Canada preclearance would improve security and economy GOP wants to move fast on Sessions Senate Dems pan talk of short-term spending bill MORE (D-Vt.) said Wednesday that he is concerned about the growing use of drones by police to conduct surveillance.

"I think there could be a significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of Americans," Leahy said in a speech at Georgetown University Law Center.

He argued that sacrificing privacy will not make people safer.

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"Let's not forget we have certain basic constitutional rights as Americans," Leahy said.

Drones are cheaper to build and fly than helicopters, making them a cost-effective option for police departments looking to gain a bird's eye view of a scene. Domestic drones are now uncommon, but the Federal Aviation Administration has predicted that by the end of the decade, 30,000 commercial and government drones could be flying in U.S. skies. 

More than a dozen police agencies around the country have already applied for licenses to operate drones.

Privacy groups are urging Congress to enact legislation that would set nationwide restrictions on how police can use drones.

They argue that drones allow for persistent tracking that would not be possible with manned aircraft.

Rep. Ted PoeTed PoeOvernight Cybersecurity: Lawmakers pushing for vote to delay warrant rule changes Coons to call for voice vote to halt changes to hacking rule The right person for State Department is Rudy Giuliani MORE (R-Texas) said on Tuesday that he has spoken with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteHouse GOP picks two women to lead committees Victims of Nazi Art theft need Congress to HEAR Passing US-Canada preclearance would improve security and economy MORE (R-Va.) about the privacy risks of domestic drones.

"I think that's on his agenda, to have some kind of drone legislation during the Congress," Poe said.

Last session, Poe authored the Preserving American Privacy Act, which would have only allowed police to use drones with a warrant and to investigate a felony.

He said he plans to reintroduce similar legislation this Congress with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), another member of the Judiciary Committee.