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Drone Association Says Privacy Advocates Putting Industry at Risk

But ACLU counters that it's the people prerogative to watch the government, not the other way around.

Bridget Johnson


August 13, 2013 - 6:22 pm

WASHINGTON — Advocates of unmanned systems technology contended at a Tuesday debate that privacy activists are harming the drone industry, while the ACLU countered that Americans should be watching the government — not the other way around.

Ben Gielow, government relations manager and general counsel at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said on a panel at the industry group’s megaconference in Washington that “people are not truly talking about privacy issues; they are attacking this industry.”

“Our concern is that a lot of these privacy issues… could really impact this industry in the long run,” he added.

Gielow asserted that legislation on the state and federal level targeting domestic drone use unfairly singled out the industry when there are other technologies privacy advocates could be trying to regulate through legislation as well, including satellites and street cameras.

“If you’re always legislating the newest technology there’s always going to be the new, new thing,” he said. “…This industry is jeopardized by the issue of privacy.”

The AUVSI rep also noted that the battle versus drone surveillance had united the American Civil Liberties Union and members of the Tea Party, such as on one bill in the House, introduced by Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), where Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) share co-sponsorship.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, said there’s a reason for that when unmanned surveillance technology can be used to videotape political rallies “both on the conservative side of the spectrum and the liberal side of the spectrum.”

Stressing that “we don’t want to live in an America” where there’s a fear of being watched from sun-up to sundown, Stanley cautioned that there’s “pent-up demand” for drone use by cities and law enforcement agencies.

“We are going to see police agencies in this country want to put these over our neighborhoods and track all the time,” he said. “…There are probably a lot of good uses for drones…we’re focused on mass suspicionless surveillance.”

Greg McNeal, a law professor at Pepperdine University and Forbes contributor, charged that the “privacy lobby” was “tapping into a vein of paranoia that the general public has.”

Citing Poe’s Preserving American Privacy Act of 2013 as “the bill that’s most likely to get passed most likely to blow a hole in your bottom line,” McNeal said “these bills are being poorly drafted to address the privacy concerns that are being blown out of proportion by the ACLU, by Rand Paul and others.”

Poe’s bill, which has 22 diverse co-sponsors, amends the federal criminal code to require a governmental entity operating a public unmanned aircraft system to minimize the collection or disclosure of covered information.

“As we enter this uncharted world of drone technology, Congress must be proactive and establish boundaries for drone use that safeguard the Constitutional rights of Americans,” Poe said upon introducing the bill in February. “Individuals are rightfully concerned that these new eyes in the sky may threaten their privacy. It is the obligation of Congress to ensure that this does not happen. Just because Big Brother can look into someone’s backyard doesn’t mean it should. Technology may change, but the Constitution does not.”

“I’m shocked when I walk the trade show floor here by the lack of attention to this issue mostly because it’s a business opportunity,” McNeal said, stressing that the first company to sell drone technology with built-in auditing including logs and date/time stamps would be “two to three years ahead of the privacy curve” and able to sell it to states facing anti-drone legislative action.

“Unmanned systems can be more accountable than manned systems,” McNeal said.

He echoed Gielow’s concerns about legislation not taking a “technology-neutral stance.”

“If we’re concerned about always being watched, then we should be concerned about being watched by a camera on the telephone pole as well as the unmanned system,” continued McNeal. The bills just focused on drones, he said, tap into “dystopian fears of robotics and unmanned systems.”

Stanley argued that that drone surveillance will go 24/7, 365 sooner than later, so “good protections” need to be enacted now.

“If you had a police officer following you 24/7 you’d freak out,” he said. “…There is a wave of concern in the country about drones… they are a very powerful surveillance technology and they do need to be regulated.”

Doug Marshall, division manager of the UAS regulatory and standards development program at New Mexico State University, said six states have some sort of law on the books regarding drone use and 41 others have legislation up for consideration, resulting in the risk of “a jigsaw puzzle of conflicting regulations.” Ultimately, airspace is a federal issue and states can just control use by their agencies.

Marshall predicted the privacy implications of drone use will make it to the Supreme Court within the next two or three years — “a scary thing for all of us to have in this industry.”

Stanley, though, said once privacy protections are spelled out by law — federal law being the ACLU’s first choice, with state laws their second choice — “that will be good for the drone industry.”

He stressed that they don’t have the same objections to private drone use, which carries First Amendment implications, as they do to government use. “We think photography is something that people should use to watch over the government,” Stanley said, adding later they support an “individual with the ability to watch the government but not government watching the individual.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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“…There are probably a lot of good uses for drones…we’re focused on mass suspicionless surveillance.”

Did he really say that? Suspicion-less surveillance?

What an oxymoron - what a moron!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Paleo, I think the intended meaning was that the public is too worried about surveillance for mass data gathering without suspicion or a warrant, while these drones have so many other nifty uses. The comment is trying to pooh-pooh public concerns. "Relax. We don't really mean to use drones for the purposes you're thinking of."

Of course, we have a right to be worried, especially when a shill for the industry tries to downplay everyone's obviously valid fear.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
a modified secret agent in one of those matt lite movies already shot a drone down w/ a h.p. rifle. took a couple shots. seriously doubt they will see a 30-06 round coming too many times. if it don't belong, imagine it will become target practice, especially in hunting season. about 41 million annual hunters out there. if this becomes a problem it can be remedied. need moving target practice anyway for bird season.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Have you ever tried shooting at something flying at low level? I don't mean skeet, where it's all very predictable, and shotguns are used.

I have. We got training using RC planes in the Army. It's extraordinarily difficult to hit something like that with a rifle. The doctrine (at that time) was to basically make a wall of lead going up and hope we got lucky.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
'police departments are going to want them everywhere'? as long as I can have one too. just like theirs. we already have how many hundreds of domestic armored cars being delivered/on order for use in this country? wtf could those possibly be for? wink wink

'we are focused on mass suspicionless surveillance'. yep, so is every American patriot. but we already have a government nobody but a blind idiot would trust.

I just heard a rumor that somebody's lawyer said we have 'lost' a bunch of missiles. part of benghazi mess? bet they work on drones.

and people actually go on talking head news shows and feign surprise that anyone would question their holie-won's intentions. I mean seriously, who would sell assault arms to Mexican drug dealers but a clown? and then go hide behind executive privilege to claim a get-outta-jail-free card.? sounds like clown material if I ever heard it. where is s.n.l.? personally I would rather he had slept through benghazi. using tax payer $$ for just about everything but helping this country.

did he have something w/ screwing up the writing format on this board as well? it really suks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I guess if I saw one hovering over my back yard they would have a very good picture of the person who shot the son-of-a-beast down. Several years ago (yes I said several YEARS) one was shot down over Palisade Colorado by some redneck with a 30-06. It crashed in a city park and it didn't take very long for the black Suburbans to show up to gather it up. Funny how it never showed up in the local news! We just figured the DEA had some new toys!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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