Protecting Privacy from Aerial Surveillance

Unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life. Many Americans have heard of these aircraft, commonly called “drones,” because of their use overseas in places like Afghanistan and Yemen. But drones are coming to America, and the ACLU strenuously believes protections must be put in place to guard our privacy.

As technology is quickly becoming cheaper and more powerful, and interest in deploying drones among police departments is increasing around the country, our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with democratic values.

In 2012, ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) urged the Federal Aviation Administration, which has the authority to regulate domestic drones, to undertake rulemaking that safeguards privacy. In December 2011, ACLU issued a report that outlines a set of protections that would help protect Americans’ privacy in the coming world of domestic drones.

Drones in Oregon

So far, no Oregon agencies have received approval from the FAA to use drones but we expect that could change. The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office has publicly expressed desire to integrate use of drones and policing – though at least for now he has stated that they would be used only for search and rescue and not for other aerial surveillance. 

Others have an economic interest in any increased use of drones in Oregon – including drone manufacturers like Initu in Hood River and a group of organizations in Central Oregon hoping to allow for a new drone testing site near Bend.  

Discussion of whether legislators in Salem might take up the issue of domestic drones and privacy protections in the 2013 session is already underway. Count on the ACLU of Oregon to continue to closely monitor these conversations to ensure that privacy rights of Oregonians are not undermined by other interests.