CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Responding to a call for public comments on the Federal Aviation Administration’s privacy protocol for its six drone test sites, where drones “will be put through a battery of tests before they’re allowed into U.S. airspace in 2015,” The Rutherford Institute warned against any government use of drones without appropriate civil liberties protections. Specifically, Institute policy analysts pointed to the need for policies which would prevent 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. Reportedly, more than 30 states, including Maryland and Virginia, have expressed interest in acting as a host for an FAA drone test site. At least 30,000 drones are expected to occupy U.S. airspace by 2020.
“James Madison once observed that the means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home. As relevant as his remarks remain today, I doubt Madison could have envisioned a time when the U.S. government would sanction weapons of war such as drones, tasers and sound cannons being used against American citizens,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “What most Americans fail to realize is that even the so-called moratoriums on drones being enacted by various state legislatures accomplish little more than allowing legislators to avoid the issue until it’s too late. The only way to hold the line against civil liberties abuses is for the states to ensure that these drones will not be equipped with weapons and that any data acquired by them will not be used against Americans in a court of law.”
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 comments to the Federal Aviation Administration echoed its message to the various 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.