Police drones in the sky, cont’d

Caleb Brown interviews me for Cato’s Daily Podcast on the subject of law enforcement drones, which I wrote about yesterday. You can watch here.

Also, check out recent columns on the subject by my Cato colleagues Gene Healy and Nat Hentoff. As Healy points out, elected officials such as Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) have made remarkably blithe statements in favor of drone use, even as a defense contractor is perfecting tiny mechanized spies-in-the-sky that weigh no more than a battery and can perch on window ledges taking pictures of what is inside. (Another drone capability: intercepting nearby wireless communications.) Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has emerged as a leading critic (“when I’m separating out my recyclables, I don’t want them having a drone to make sure I’m putting my newspaper in the proper bin.”) The AP’s Joan Lowy covered the controversy last month.

Meanwhile, the chief practical obstacle to widespread drone deployment over U.S. skies — Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval — was quietly gotten around this spring when Congress passed legislation directing the FAA to carve out an approved space for drones, a move that followed a strong lobbying push on the “pro” side and almost no organized opposition from privacy advocates, Fourth Amendment fans or anyone else (see T.W. Farnam’s excellent Washington Post account.) More on domestic drone lobbying from Andrea Stone at HuffPo and First Street Research.


  • I don’t think the FAA approval should be blocked on privacy grounds. Those are two separate issues. I don’t really object to drones for police or civilian use … cheaper, safer, better. They can fly in weather that helicopters wont fly in. Do I really care that the police or traffic ‘copter is a real person flying it or someone back at the airport? At the same time I don’t need a thermal imaging system picking me up as I cut through the park (closed after dark) as I walk home. Maybe the drone should look at empty sky until a call comes in?

    Someone needs to make the serious privacy argument separate from the safety argument.

  • The use of drones by an already out of control police apparatus is exceedingly totalitarian and has no place in a society if we human beings. The drones have to go.

  • I have no problem with being watched as long as I get to watch the watchers. 24/7 surveillance of all government officials. All online. All the time.

    What do they have to hide?

  • I don’t know why this bothers you. Here in Louisiana, we will just shoot at them. I extends the hunting season.