Senators push warrants for spying in the skies

Senators push warrants for spying in the skies
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A bipartisan pair of senators is demanding that the government obtain a warrant before it conducts aerial surveillance in the United States.

Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenIRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law Mobile providers at center of privacy storm Hillicon Valley: House chair seeks emergency briefing on wireless industry's data sharing | AG nominee to recuse himself from AT&T-Time Warner merger | Dem questions Treasury, IRS on shutdown cyber risks MORE (D-Ore.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R-Nev.) on Wednesday introduced the Protecting Individuals From Mass Aerial Surveillance Act, which they say will restrict government agents from using drones, cellphone tracking gear and other technology in the skies.

“Americans’ privacy rights shouldn’t stop at the treetops,” Wyden said in a statement. “Clear rules for when and how the federal government can watch Americans from the sky will provide critical certainty for the government, and help the unmanned aircraft industry reach its potential as an economic powerhouse in Oregon and the United States.”

In recent weeks, various agencies at the Justice Department have come under fire for their use of StingRay technology to covertly capture information from people’s cellphones. The devices replicate cellphone towers to vacuum up information from people’s phones, including identifying details and information about their location.

The U.S. Marshalls Service has found itself in hot water for a formerly secret program to strap the phone-tracking devices onto airplanes and fly them around a handful of major airports. 

Separately, the FBI has also been also been equipping surveillance technology to planes and flying them above major cities. 

While the surveillance appears to be conducted as part of investigations, innocent bystanders' information can easily be captured along with targeted suspects.

“This legislation protects those inherent rights from being trampled by the government’s intrusion from above and provides much needed clarity on what authority the federal government has related to aerial surveillance,” Heller said in a statement.

Under the terms of the bill, the government would have to obtain a warrant before any surveillance conducted via drone or manned aircraft. Bystanders whose information was picked up incidentally would not be able to be identified, and any unlawfully collected information would be tossed out in court.

The bill includes exemptions to let border patrol officers conduct flights with a 25-mile strip along the border, as well as for testing, surveying public lands and some other uses.