Lawmakers file bill to limit US drones, citing privacy concerns

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is introducing legislation to limit the domestic use of drones, which is being examined now by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

"It doesn't take a constitutional law professor to see why legislation is needed to protect the rights of the American people," Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), the bill's co-sponsor, in a speech on the floor of the House this week.

"The right of a reasonable expectation of privacy is a constitutional right. Any form of snooping or spying, surveillance or eavesdropping goes against the rights that are outlined in the Constitution."

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Congress required the FAA in the agency's last funding bill to test flights for domestic drones to see if they would interfere with existing air traffic. However, Poe said that it was important to regulate for what purposes drones can be used before they are even allowed to fly.

His measure, which has yet to be filed, would require warrants for drone use in criminal cases, with the exception of emergency situations like fires or drought monitoring. It's being co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.).

Poe introduced similar legislation, the Preserving American Privacy Act, in 2012, but the bill died in committee. According to GovTrack, it had 26 co-sponsors, only one of which was a Democrat.

The measure has won praise from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has expressed privacy concerns about domestic drones.

“Unmanned drones must not become a perpetual presence in our lives, hovering over us, following us and recording our every move,” ACLU legislative counsel Chris Calabrese said in a statement. "By requiring that law enforcement secure judicial approval before using drones, this legislation achieves the right balance for the use of these eyes in the sky.”

The use of drones has been a hot topic in Congress lately, with the release of a memo from the Obama administration detailing potential strikes on American citizens overseas who are terrorism suspects.

Poe said in his floor speech that there are legitimate uses of drones.

"Sometimes drones are good," he said. "We can thank drones for helping us track terrorists overseas and for helping us catch outlaws on the border."

However, he quickly added that "[L]egitimate uses by government and private citizens do occur, but a nosy neighbor or a Big Brother government does not have the right to look into a window without legitimate cause or, in the case of government, probable cause."

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