Predator drones — the unmanned remote-controlled aircraft mainly used in combat zones — have been quietly patrolling U.S. skies in greater numbers. From fighting forest fires to tracking drug smugglers, predators have provided first responders with support and data in place of more costly manned aircraft. But privacy and safety advocates say these largely unregulated aircraft pose a looming threat to society. We explore drones’ domestic use, and the concerns surrounding their deployment.

Guests

  • Brian Bennett National Security Reporter, Los Angeles Times
  • Jay Stanley Senior Policy Analyst in the Speech, Privacy and Technology Program at the American Civil Liberties Union

Transcript

  • 12:06:48

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Your Turn on the now well-known story of Lowe's Home Improvement in the television show "All-American Muslim," but first, drones, those unmanned remote-controlled aircraft with scary names like Predator and Reaper have been staples in hunting down al-Qaida operatives in the Middle East.

  • 12:07:28

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHailed as cheaper, safer alternatives to putting boots on the ground, the devices have also have their share of controversies and crashes. And what you may not know is that this sleek, stealthy aircraft are circling our friendly skies and assisting local law enforcement with investigations. Police departments from Hawaii to Maryland are using them, and the FAA expects their use to skyrocket over the next few years.

  • 12:07:55

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIPrivacy and safety advocates say these unregulated aircraft pose a looming threat to society, and they warned of a slippery slope that will end with armed drones patrolling our skies. So just how prevalent are drones in the U.S., and how concerned should we be that they're watching us? Joining us in studio is Brian Bennett. He's national security reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He's based in Washington. Brian Bennett, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:08:24

    MR. BRIAN BENNETTHappy to be here, Kojo.

  • 12:08:25

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst in the speech, privacy and technology program at the ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union. Brian, thank you -- I mean, Jay, thank you for joining us also.

  • 12:08:37

    MR. JAY STANLEYGood to be here.

  • 12:08:38

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join us at 800-433-8850. If you have comments or questions, you can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Do you think local enforcement -- law enforcement should be using drones to aid in their investigations? 800-433-8850. Brian, Predator drones have been in the news quite a bit this week and mainly because they have been crashing overseas, first in Iran, then in the Seychelles.

  • 12:09:07

    NNAMDIBut they are being deployed in increasing numbers over our domestic airspace. How are they being used?

  • 12:09:14

    BENNETTSo the Department of Homeland Security has a fleet of about -- of eight Predator B drones, and these are the same air platform that are used to hunt down members of al-Qaida in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The ones used inside the United States are not armed. They're used for surveillance on the border in Arizona, Texas and also in the northern border based in North Dakota.

  • 12:09:39

    BENNETTAnd Department of Homeland Security has been using these Predators since about 2006 to fly border patrols, and the FAA has some concerns about the safety of these drones in our national airspace, in particular their ability to sense and avoid other aircraft. And the FAA has restricted their use to a certain part of the airspace. But over the last year, that amount of airspace that the Homeland Security Department is allowed to fly these drones has greatly expanded.

  • 12:10:15

    BENNETTNow, in the northern border, Homeland Security can fly from the part of Minnesota all the way to western Washington State within 100 miles of the Canadian border, and also there are areas along the southern border between Arizona and Texas where the Department of Homeland Security can fly these Predators as well for border security. And also Department of Homeland Security has recognized that the surveillance technology is useful not just for tracking down drug smugglers and illegal immigrants coming into the country, but it's also helpful for assessing the damage after a major disaster.

  • 12:10:54

    BENNETTAnd so they can fly over levees, for example, and see which levees are bulging or fly over an (word?) and predict where an (word?) river is going to flood first. And it makes possible to deploy resources in advance to anticipate where damage is going to come after a big national disaster.

  • 12:11:12

    NNAMDIWhat might be surprising to many of our listeners is that local law enforcement can now call in drones to provide support in domestic investigations. Tell us what happened on the ranch in North Dakota that you wrote about last weekend in the L.A. Times.

  • 12:11:26

    BENNETTSo I started to look into how other ways the DHS was using these Predators, and I found out that in June of this year, a local sheriff in North Dakota had been chased off a private property where he was trying to serve a warrant looking for six missing cows. And he was chased off at gunpoint. And he called in assistance from a lot of different law enforcement in the area, including the Department of Homeland Security and their surveillance aircraft.

  • 12:11:53

    BENNETTAnd he requested a surveillance drone to fly over the property, which is a massive 3,000-acre spread in North Dakota, and that surveillance drone was able to tell the sheriff exactly where individuals around the property where. The sheriff could tell based on looking at the footage from the drone that a few of the people who had chased him off the property were laying in wait to ambush anyone else who came onto the property.

  • 12:12:19

    BENNETTAnd it's entirely possible that the assistance from this surveillance aircraft prevented a big shootout or a standoff, like we saw at Ruby Ridge or Waco. And I think when I talked to people about how DHS was using this aircraft, I think the big concern is that DHS has decided to do this without any type of public comment or direct congressional approval to use the surveillance aircraft in support of local law enforcement in this way.

  • 12:12:49

    NNAMDIWe're talking about the use of drones on the home front and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think the use of drones is an inevitable tool for law enforcement as technology changes rapidly? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to kojo@wamu.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and make your comment there. I think a lot of us have a mental image of a drone as a silent, sleek, winged robot circling over our heads. What do these things look and sound like when they fly overhead?

  • 12:13:22

    BENNETTSo the Predator B, which is what the Department of Homeland Security is using on the border and to assist in disaster relief and some local law enforcement, it's a large aircraft. It's about 66 feet in wingspan. It has a propeller, a rear propeller, so it has a propeller to drive it. And it's usually painted gray. The Department of Homeland Security drones have the Customs and Border Protection seal on them.

  • 12:13:49

    BENNETTThey -- if they're at altitude, you can't hear them. If they're flying 10,000, 15,000 feet, you really can't hear them. And they're difficult to spot as well if they're far away. But if they're flying low, then you can hear a sort of buzzing sound from the propeller.

  • 12:14:04

    NNAMDIAnd one suspects if local law enforcement is using them, they're likely to be flying low?

  • 12:14:09

    BENNETTNot necessarily. The sensors on the aircraft work at altitude, so, in particular, what's useful for law enforcement when you bring (unintelligible) aircraft like this in is for it to be not detected -- not to be detected by people on the ground. So, like, a flying police helicopter over someone's property could tip that person off that they're being watched. But flying a surveillance drone at 10-, 15,000 feet, eight miles away from the property, but it can still pick up the heat signatures of people and where they are in the property if they're outside.

  • 12:14:40

    BENNETTThat enables the police to see what's happening on that property without tipping off the people that they're being watched.

  • 12:14:49

    NNAMDIJay Stanley, talk a little bit more about the -- how powerful the cameras and surveillance equipment are that can be mounted on these things.

  • 12:14:58

    STANLEYWell, we all know that camera technology is advancing by leaps and bounds these days, and, of course, the lenses are getting more powerful. They're getting cheaper. So we can have, you know, high-powered zoom lenses on these things. And, of course, there are all kinds of, you know, advanced imagery that can also be attached to these devices, such as night vision. And the U.S. military is even working on technologies that can be used to see through walls or roofs or the ground.

  • 12:15:26

    STANLEYSo, you know, so this goes far beyond what can be seen from the naked eye. And that technology is only going to get better as we move forward.

  • 12:15:35

    NNAMDIHow widespread is the use of drones by domestic law enforcement agencies? Is it growing?

  • 12:15:40

    STANLEYIt is growing, and domestic law enforcement agencies are chomping at the bit to use them. But the FAA has largely held back their use so far. There are a limited number, probably a dozen or so, of local municipalities that have deployed drones, have received permission to deploy them from the FAA, and have done so. They're typically under very tight restrictions. So we really haven't entered the drone era yet when it comes to local police.

  • 12:16:08

    STANLEYBut the FAA is under growing pressure, political pressure, pressure from the aerospace industry, which is very politically powerful, and from police departments to loosen the rules and to allow greater use of drones. And, of course, there are many good uses of drones, such as, you know, checking levees and Ruby Ridge-type situations. But once the floodgates open, we don't want to find ourselves living in a country that we don't recognize anymore because we haven't, you know, thought this through.

  • 12:16:38

    NNAMDIAccording to a report in The Washington Post, Queen Anne's County, Maryland, flies drones, but it's done there as part of a pilot program that mostly limits the use of drones to training exercises over unpopulated areas. Before I go to the phones, Brian, unmanned drones have been used on U.S. borders for several years now, as you pointed out. But how did their use creep into local law enforcement?

  • 12:17:02

    BENNETTThis is a situation where the DHS had this asset and were flying it routinely on the border and were looking around for other ways to use -- other ways for it to be useful, and they saw firefighting, and assisting people in assessing flood damage is one way. And, for example, on the northern border, DHS began to have open houses at their drone headquarters in Grand Forks, ND, and invited local law enforcement to come in and see it and see the capabilities of what they can do and establish a connection.

  • 12:17:37

    BENNETTAnd that meant that when a local sheriff decided he wanted assistance, he would -- he knew who to call. And having spoken with some other members of the North Dakota law enforcement community, these drones up there have been used to assist law enforcement in other situations as well.

  • 12:17:56

    NNAMDIBut it's my understanding that former Congresswoman Jane Harman who sat on the House Homeland Security Intelligence Committee at the time when Congress first authorized Customs and Border Protection to buy unarmed Predators, and they cited broad authority to work with police. She said that at the time no one ever discussed using Predators to help local police serve warrants or do other basic work.

  • 12:18:21

    BENNETTYeah. This is a concern in Congress. There are some members of Congress who felt like, OK, they approved the purchase of this surveillance aircraft, but they were billed as being for border enforcement. And now, they see mission creep. They see DHS finding other uses for this aircraft without coming back to Congress and explicitly saying, hey, we want to use it in this way.

  • 12:18:39

    BENNETTAnd also members of Congress would like to say, look, if you're going to use this for law enforcement purposes, for other purposes in the interior of the United States, let's at least have some very strict and public guidelines on how they're going to be used. And, you know, some members of Congress have voiced interest and concerns about that.

  • 12:18:57

    NNAMDIJay Stanley?

  • 12:18:57

    STANLEYAnd this is one of the concerns that we have about this technology overall that we see with a lot of different technologies, which is, you know, we have a new technology. It's coming at us. It has the potential to really change the nature of our public spaces and adjust -- and change the nature of our privacy and the balance of power between government and the individual. And instead of having a discussion about it in a democratic decision-making process about, you know, to what extent do we want to adapt this, what are the advantages and the disadvantages, the costs.

  • 12:19:26

    STANLEYYou know, we get policy-making by procurement where the police departments, local or at the federal level just go out and buy the stuff and start using it. And that's what we don't want to see with drones. And so we've issued a report today actually on drones and called for restrictions and regulations on how they should be used. And one of the things that we call for in the report is that, you know, that there be a democratic process for how they're used locally and federally.

  • 12:19:56

    NNAMDIAnd you can find a link to that ACLU report issued today at our website, kojoshow.org. It looks at protecting privacy from aerial surveillance. We're going to go to the phones in a minute, but before we do, Brian, cost seems to be one of the big selling points of drones for local police. How does the cost compare to manned surveillance?

  • 12:20:14

    BENNETTI think that's a great question, and we really don't know that much about the totality of how much these surveillance aircraft systems cost. I've asked the Department of Homeland Security some questions about that and, you know, the answer is that it costs less, about $3,000 an hour, to fly these unmanned systems on the border in comparison to a similar manned system, which is -- that would be the P-3 surveillance aircraft that requires a large crew. That cost about $7,000.

  • 12:20:47

    BENNETTBut I think there's a lot of hidden costs that were not -- that are not currently being accounted for in that initial $3,000 because the FAA, for example, requires spotters to be on the runway at the moment when these aircraft take off and land because of safety regulations. There's a large number of analysts that are required to analyze the footage that comes off of these drones. And also, a lot of the pilots are also rated for other aircraft, and I'm not sure if their salaries are being tallied for the other aircraft or for the unmanned aircraft.

  • 12:21:23

    BENNETTSo I think there's big open question and more information to find out about exactly how much it cost to fly these unmanned aerial surveillance because they're definitely sold as a cost-savings. But they're quite expensive to buy, the full system. You can't just buy the aircraft 'cause you have to also buy a trailer where the pilot sits on the ground. You have to buy a strong antenna. You have to buy satellite time to drive the connection, sort of like buying a cable bill.

  • 12:21:51

    NNAMDIJay Stanley, I know we got to take a break.

  • 12:21:53

    STANLEYI think there's an important distinction to be made here, which is the Predators, which are very large aircraft, are used overseas, are used in the border, are one type of unmanned aerial vehicle. But there are also a whole spectrum of these vehicles. Some of them are as small as your hand. And a lot of the local departments may be using sort of hand-launched ones or much smaller ones, which would have different, you know, different costs.

  • 12:22:15

    STANLEYAnd those could actually end up being very, very inexpensive, which may be part of why we may be seeing very, very widespread deployment of this if we don't put rules and regulations in place to protect the price.

  • 12:22:26

    NNAMDIA lot of listeners want to get in on this conversation. So if you're trying to reach us and you called 800-433-8850 and can't get through, go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:27

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the domestic use of drones with Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst in the Speech, Privacy and Technology Program at the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, and Brian Bennett, national security reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He's based here in Washington and has been writing about this subject. Let's go to the phones. Here is Samir (sp?) in Annandale, Va. Samir, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:24:53

    SAMIRYeah, I think it's very disturbing that the American government is using 9/11 as an excuse to turn America into a police state. They are spying more and more and using new techniques and new agencies to spy on American citizens, and the main target of all the spying are the American-Muslims. I personally had experience with these drones and helicopters flying over me when I work outside. And this has been going for many years. This is something that's been happening long before the show came out.

  • 12:25:26

    SAMIRAnd this is what dictatorships all over the world do. They spy on people. And this is a free country. They shouldn't be following the way of dictatorships. Thank you.

  • 12:25:39

    NNAMDIWhat evidence is there, Brian Bennett, that drones have been in use without our knowledge? As Samir claims, they have been spying on him for longer than we've known.

  • 12:25:51

    BENNETTWell, this is the big issue, is that we just don't have that much information about how the Department of Homeland Security is using their eight surveillance aircraft. We have more information about how some of the local law enforcement, police are using their small unmanned aircraft. But we just don't know. I mean, I had to dig out a case by calling around sheriff's department around North Dakota to find the story that I came up with and wrote about.

  • 12:26:23

    BENNETTAnd it was not made publicly available by the Department of Homeland Security when I asked them for examples of how they are using this aircraft to support law enforcement. And, you know, in a similar extent, the use for disaster assistance, these aircraft are flying well into the interior of United States over states like Missouri, for example, or Arkansas.

  • 12:26:47

    BENNETTAnd I think Americans aren't -- just are unaware, and I think there are big questions about -- unanswered questions about what the U.S. government does with the footage that they collect during these missions, even when it's a humanitarian mission or a disaster relief mission, how long they retain the information, whether the information can be used in the future for law enforcement purposes.

  • 12:27:07

    NNAMDIJay Stanley, what kind of constitutional guidelines or legal framework do we have dictating eye in the sky coverage so to speak?

  • 12:27:17

    STANLEYWell, the Supreme Court has never ruled on the use of unmanned aerial surveillance. They have ruled that the constitutional protections are pretty limited for manned aircraft surveillance. There was a case decided in 1986 where an individual was growing marijuana in his backyard -- the police received a tip. He had a high fence, so they couldn't see anything. So they borrowed an airplane, and they flew over.

  • 12:27:43

    STANLEYThey saw his marijuana plants and arrested him. And he argued that his 4th Amendment, you know, right have been violated since the police didn't have a warrant, and the Supreme Court ruled that they did not need a warrant for that.

  • 12:27:54

    STANLEYBut when you start talking about drones that are much more persistent and have capabilities beyond the naked eye and the ability to sort of track people for long periods of time, the Supreme Court, in various decisions, has indicated those factors can actually heighten the 4th Amendment protection. And, you know, our position is that the 4th Amendment should impose restriction on how drones are used.

  • 12:28:20

    NNAMDIAs a result of that, is your -- is that your opinion that drones pose a more serious threat to privacy than manned flights?

  • 12:28:27

    STANLEYThey certainly do. I mean, manned flights can pose a threat to privacy, and we've seen abuses of that. But, you know, there are sort of natural limits because operating a manned helicopter or aircraft is very expensive. And, you know, drones, if we get sort of cheap, handheld drones, and they become very inexpensive and very powerful as so many of our technologies are these days, that could sort of erase the natural limits that we've seen on aerial surveillance and really open up the floodgates.

  • 12:28:57

    NNAMDII'll get back to the phones in a second, but the Supreme Court has suggested in the past that more intrusive technology might justify harsher constitutional scrutiny. Last month, the court reviewed the case of a man who unknowingly had a GPS device attached to his car by police who tracked his movements for more than a month. It was the case of, I think, Antoine Jones of Washington, D.C. Would drone surveillance fall under this kind of warrantless tracking?

  • 12:29:24

    STANLEYThe Jones case before the Supreme Court now will have a big impact on how drones are viewed. But drones certainly do have the capability to engage in that same sort of widespread-persistent tracking that we see with GPS technology. The Air Force has been working on a program called Gorgon Stare, which uses artificial intelligence and different network cameras to sort of engage in pervasive surveillance over an entire town.

  • 12:29:54

    STANLEYAnd, you know, Air Force official were quoted in The Washington Post a year or two ago, bragging about this and how they could watch everything in the whole town. So the technology is really advancing, and the constitutional implications will very severe.

  • 12:30:08

    NNAMDIBrian Bennett, could the increased use of drones domestically actually lead to enhanced privacy laws, in your view?

  • 12:30:14

    BENNETTI've spoken with some people who make the argument that this could push the American public to a point where they're demanding of their Congress -- members of Congress that they, you know, make laws that would limit how unmanned aircraft can be used. It's unclear. We're at the -- we're the very early stages of this use for law enforcement purposes over the United States.

  • 12:30:38

    BENNETTAnd we're at the very early stages of the public debate about whether Americans are comfortable having an aircraft overhead that can stay aloft for up to 20 hours and stay on target for that long, and can also collect things like -- not just video images but heat signatures. They can tell by the heat signature if someone has walked across a field recently, because the footprints left will have a different heat signature in the dirt than the dirt that's been undisturbed.

  • 12:31:05

    BENNETTSo you can see the power of this technology that's already in place and being used. And the technology has outpaced the, I think, American's current understanding of how police are conducting surveillance.

  • 12:31:18

    NNAMDIOn to the phones again. Here is Dan in Silver Spring, Md. Dan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:31:23

    DANYes. Thank you, Kojo. I'll just make a quick comment. Then I have a question, which you have somewhat addressed a little bit. My comment is, in my opinion, I think that in a not-too-distant future, the drones are going to be everywhere because it's too good of a technology. And it accomplishes much more, and the risk can be managed for all the concerns of most people (word?). And in a number of years, a lot of the things that we're extremely concerned about now will be minor. That's my first comment.

  • 12:31:50

    DANI think this is, like any other technologies that have been very beneficial to us, it's going to be very prevalent. OK. Now, my -- what I want to point was, early on in your conversation, you just alluded to a little while ago, when that example that you gave the guy in North Dakota, the sheriff was not permitted to come on the guy's property. You know, the guy said, you don't have warrant. You can't come on here if that was the case.

  • 12:32:15

    DANThe issue is, you know, yes, they could get the images and whatnot from the guy's property, but the issue is that was an invasion of his privacy. If the sheriff did not have a warrant, then he was not able to get that because he was not permitted to get that. He did not have cause. He didn't got -- it was not granted cause and no capability to go look on the property, whether it was on foot, through the fence or whether it was from a drone or from above.

  • 12:32:45

    DANSo that was one issue and then -- which I think you mentioned a little bit about, the Supreme Court case. But that was -- that's the main issue that people are concerned about, is -- and that goes down the same lane on the road as the communications, where they had -- people were used to having the private domain that we were used to protecting whereas the government and the companies went around the back way and said OK, make these big agreements with Verizon, with AT&T and whatnot.

  • 12:33:12

    DANYou have a giant domain that they have reign over. They can just go through that way, kind of the same thing with the airspace. You have a giant domain. People fly through it everyday. Why can't we just go through that and not have to worry about getting warrants? Well, that's what I want to say.

  • 12:33:25

    NNAMDIYeah, well, here is Brian Bennett.

  • 12:33:28

    BENNETTWell, let me speak specifically to the case of North Dakota. The sheriff had a warrant to search a specific field near the property, and when he was trying to execute that warrant, that's when he was ran off at gunpoint. But the warrant did not mention aerial surveillance. The warrant didn't mention searching other parts of the property either.

  • 12:33:47

    BENNETTAnd then also, speaking to this interesting point that Dan made about sort of the inevitability of drones being everywhere, I think there is an attraction, particularly in rural areas, to the use of these aircrafts, these surveillance aircraft because, for example, in Nelson County, N.D., where this standoff took place and the drone was used, there are only a handful of sheriff deputies for a whole county.

  • 12:34:12

    BENNETTAnd it's very difficult to cover that amount of space and landscape just with that small amount of manpower. And the sheriff made the argument that a drone could be helpful in covering more space.

  • 12:34:27

    NNAMDISo you can see the pressure for it coming. Here is Rob in Washington, D.C. Rob, your turn.

  • 12:34:34

    ROBI'd just like to make a quick comment, Kojo. I was at President Obama's inauguration, and there was a Predator that circled the mall the day before and the day of the inauguration. I find that kind of strange, but...

  • 12:34:52

    NNAMDIAnd how did you know about that, Rob?

  • 12:34:54

    ROBYou could see it. The sky was really bright blue, and you could see the sun reflect off on it, but very faintly. And it would just move very, very slowly.

  • 12:35:05

    NNAMDIThat falls, I guess, into the category of security sweep, Jay Stanley.

  • 12:35:10

    STANLEYI certainly didn't know anything about that.

  • 12:35:11

    NNAMDII didn't know either.

  • 12:35:12

    STANLEYBut on the other hand, I also didn't know that Customs and Border Protection was using their Predators to help local police departments until Brian's excellent report earlier this week reveal that, and I've been studying this issue for a couple months now, at least. And, you know, I mean, in January, look, when new technologies like this are introduced, they're always used for good reasons that most people agree with it at the beginning, you know, disasters and environmental surveys and police situations where it's a very helpful tool.

  • 12:35:39

    STANLEYBut then after that, of course, they start to get used more and more. And we are living in a general context where, you know, the police are often tempted to overuse technologies to spy on people who are suspected of doing wrong -- anything wrong and where our Homeland Security is sort of increasing looking inward in the American people for terrorists rather than just outward, as Samir was talking about.

  • 12:36:02

    NNAMDIRob, thank you very much for your call. We've been talking about privacy concerns, Jay, but there are also serious safety concerns about drones. We've heard a lot of reports about many of these things crashing, haven't we?

  • 12:36:14

    STANLEYYeah, there have been a number of crashes that have been reported. And, you know, the FAA is very concerned about the safety of these things. It would be ironic with all the billions of dollars we've spent protecting airline security if, you know, if this technology to supposedly protect us actually caused an air crash. And the crash rate of drones is, I believe, is 763 times higher than commercial aviation and substantially higher than general aviation as well. And so, you know, those concerns are very real.

  • 12:36:45

    NNAMDIWhat's suppose -- what's supposedly the reason for that, why they crash so much?

  • 12:36:52

    STANLEYI don't know. I think it's, you know, it's an unused -- it's a new technology. It's untested. There can be various things -- documents that we've looked at indicate that there are all kinds of sort of failure modes. They can lose the link between the ground and the aircraft. The aircraft can just sort of go off on its own. And so there are number of failure modes that are -- that people who worked on these things worry about and is of concern to the FAA.

  • 12:37:19

    NNAMDIHere's Mario in Fall Church, Va. Mario, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:37:24

    MARIOYeah, I mean, sometimes it's, you know, better the devil we know than the one we don't know. And a lot of times things have, you know, various technologies are being used without our knowing it for, you know, a decade before it become popular knowledge. Wouldn't it be better just to delineate the benefits?

  • 12:37:40

    MARIOAnd when they are eventually approved, which I'm sure they will be for local law enforcement as well as national institutions, wouldn't it be better to just designate, once you get this piece of equipment, this is how many hours a month or a week you have to use it for this purpose and just occupy people's time? Because it's sort of idleness is the devil's workshop, and they would make more sense to say you have to rescue this many kidnapped children.

  • 12:38:03

    MARIOYou have to prove that this is -- within a year or two years, this is working to the benefit of society. And while the lawyers and those powers that be actually develop punishments -- because even law enforcement is subject to law...

  • 12:38:15

    NNAMDIWell, I got to tell you Jay Stanley and the ACLU seems to be arguing that that's the process that we're missing right now. Jay?

  • 12:38:21

    STANLEYYeah, that's exactly right. And in our report that we're putting out today, we have a couple of basic recommendations for core things that we want to see around drones. And one of them is auditing and effectiveness tracking. One of the problems that we frequently see with technologies is that the police get these toys, and they're all dressed up with nowhere to go because, you know, fortunately, terrorism actually is extremely rare. And so they are tempted to overuse the technologies for all kinds of minor crimes, and they end up becoming pretty pervasive surveillance tools.

  • 12:38:51

    NNAMDIWell, Brian, is there talk of drones being weaponized for domestic use or have we not yet reached that point?

  • 12:38:58

    BENNETTI haven't heard a discussion at the Department of Homeland Security of weapons being put on the Predator Bs that they have. But, I mean, just to be clear, the Predator Bs they purchased is the exact same model that has been weaponized for use in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so it would be possible, but I have not heard any discussion. There has been some discussion of weaponizing some of the police -- small police drones that are being tested in certain jurisdictions around the country.

  • 12:39:25

    BENNETTThere is a jurisdiction in Texas that had tested putting a grenade launcher onto a small remotely piloted helicopter. So it's -- you know, it's unclear, you know, you could see the argument for maybe putting, I don't know, a net deployment or rubber bullets or something like that. I could see police departments making those arguments that it would be useful to put on lethal devices, for example, on drones. I think we're very early on in the discussions about that.

  • 12:39:57

    NNAMDIJust to be more specific, Jay, we got an email from Steve in Virginia. "Are warrants needed for such surveillance as they sometimes are for conventional methods?"

  • 12:40:06

    STANLEYWell, what we call for in our report is that we think that the police should have specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to specific instances of criminal wrongdoing. Or if the drone is going to intrude upon sort of reasonable exploitations of privacy, if they had like a little small hummingbird-sized drone that can peer into your second story window or the like, then the government should get a warrant, definitely yes.

  • 12:40:30

    NNAMDIAnd this calls for your prognostication. Any predictions as to whether drone surveillance is on its way to litigation by a U.S. citizen with an eye to eventual Supreme Court consideration during a future term?

  • 12:40:42

    STANLEYI think that's probably pretty likely.

  • 12:40:43

    NNAMDIYeah. It seems to be that way at this point. Jay Stanley is senior policy analyst in the speech, privacy and technology program at the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU. Jay Stanley, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:40:53

    STANLEYThanks so much.

  • 12:40:54

    NNAMDIBrian Bennett is national security reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He's based in Washington, D.C. Brian, thank you for dropping in.

  • 12:40:59

    BENNETTAlways a pleasure, Kojo.

  • 12:41:01

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, Your Turn. You know the story about Lowe's Home Improvement and the television show "All-American Muslims." Well, we're going to ask for you to offer your opinion about that. You can start calling now, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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