Leahy warns that police drones threaten privacy

Leahy warns that police drones threaten privacy
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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGrassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees Popular bill to fight drug prices left out of budget deal Judiciary Dems want public hearings with Kushner, Trump Jr. 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.

"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 PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeHouse votes to add requirements for Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits Capitol Police arrest disability rights protesters for disrupting hearing WATCH: Dem rep: Trump's SOTU seemed 'reasonable,' but wait until 'his Adderall wears off' MORE (R-Texas) said on Tuesday that he has spoken with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteProgressive group targets GOP moderates on immigration Florida shooting reopens CDC gun research debate Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March 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.