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Congress

Privacy, National Security Concerns Dog Domestic Drone Use

April 4, 2012

An expected increase in domestic drones can largely be regulated under existing legal frameworks, analysts argued at a Brookings Institution event on Wednesday.

In February a new law loosened restrictions on the use of remote-controlled aircraft in the United States. Analysts expect a wave of people from law enforcement, journalism, real estate and other fields including hobbyists to take advantage of the technology.

But the potential abuse of drones, especially by the government, has civil liberties advocates worried. "Government has power over us that others do not have," American Civil Liberties Union attorney Catherine Crump said at the Brookings panel discussion.

The ACLU and other civil liberties groups have sent a petition to the Federal Aviation Administration asking it to protect Americans' privacy.

And UCLA electrical engineering professor John Villasenor raised the possibility that drones could pose a serious national security threat if wielded by terrorists.

Still, the benefits of unmanned aircraft outweigh the potential risks, said Paul Rosenzweig, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He argued that while current laws will need to be tweaked to account for drones, existing limits on police authority, for example, already provide the framework for preventing abuse.

And Ken Anderson, an American University law professor, agreed. The best course of action is to develop a set of model legal language that can be followed by states and other regulators, he said. Right now the danger is that the potential benefits of drone technology could be lost if new regulations are enacted based on a few negative anecdotes, Anderson said.

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