WASHINGTON, DC — Pointing out that the United States government’s use of drone technology to carry out a targeted killing program as part of its counterterrorism operations overseas was undertaken without any public discussion of the dangers of the technology, the reach of the program, the risks to innocent civilians, or the potential for blowback, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, is calling on Congress to be proactive in adopting safeguards to protect Americans against the domestic use of weaponized surveillance drones.
In written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, Whitehead warned against any government use of drones without appropriate civil liberties protections, including prohibitions on drones being outfitted with anti-personnel devices such as tasers and tear gas and data recorded by the drones being used in criminal prosecutions. The Rutherford Institute has been particularly vocal over the past year in calling on government officials at the local, state, and federal level to adopt legislation that would establish limits on the government’s use of drones domestically. At least 30,000 drones are expected to occupy U.S. airspace by 2020.
“If we have learned one thing from President Obama’s rash use of drones in the United States’ counterterrorism efforts overseas, it is that this technology is too powerful, too lethal and too indiscriminate for us to allow it to be unleashed on the American populace before any real protocols to protect our safety and privacy rights have been put in place,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead. “We cannot afford to wait until after these drones have been deployed domestically to establish clear guidelines. Such an approach can only end in tragedy.”
The FAA Reauthorization Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, authorized the use of drones domestically for a wide range of functions, both public and private, governmental and corporate. Yet as constitutional attorney John Whitehead points out, without proper safeguards, these drones, some of which are deceptively small and capable of videotaping the facial expressions of people on the ground from hundreds of feet in the air, will usher in a new age of surveillance in American society. Not even those indoors, in the privacy of their homes, will be safe from these aerial spies, which can be equipped with technology capable of peering through walls. In addition to their surveillance capabilities, drone manufacturers have confirmed that drones can also be equipped with automatic weapons, grenade launchers, tear gas, and tasers. Many local police departments throughout the country, including in Florida and California, have already begun utilizing drones in police procedures without any real regulations in place.
One of the first organizations to warn against the threats to Americans’ safety and privacy posed by the domestic use of drones, The Rutherford Institute has drafted model resolutions and legislation aimed at preventing police agencies from utilizing drones outfitted with anti-personnel devices such as tasers and tear gas and prohibiting the government from using data recorded via police spy drones in criminal prosecutions. First adopted by the City of Charlottesville, Virginia in February 2013, the Institute’s model drone legislation has since gone viral. The Rutherford Institute’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee echoed its recent warning to the Federal Aviation Administration and state legislatures about the need for effective regulations on the domestic use of drone technology and the threats it poses to Americans’ basic rights, privacy and security.