Rutherford Institute Urges Lawmakers to Regulate Drones
The Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville is cracking down on what some argue could become a Big Brother nightmare. The institute is calling on lawmakers to protect people against the power of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.
Rutherford President John Whitehead has sent a letter to both Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors calling on them to urge the General Assembly to create clear limits on how law enforcement can use drones.
Rutherford argues drones do have legitimate uses, such as spotting wildfires or carrying out search and rescue missions, but also have the capability to become invasive. The institute says drone manufacturers have confirmed they can be equipped with automatic weapons, tear gas, and tasers. Some drones can even see through walls.
Whitehead is also concerned about smaller drones that mimic birds and insects and are almost undetectable.
"And what we're saying is, it's time for us to demand that Congress and the General Assembly pass some really strong language. My language is that they shouldn't be able to use any of it against you in court because if they can see you having sex with your wife, using the bathroom, or whatever you do in your home, let's say you're smoking a cigarette and it looks like a joint, should that drone be able to smash your door down?," said Whitehead.
According to the Rutherford Institute's fact sheet on this issue, there are at least 63 active drone sites around the United States. The Obama administration is calling for drone technology to become integrated into the National Airspace by 2015.
The issue is expected to come up under "other business" at Tuesday's city council meeting.
The Rutherford Institute Press Release
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — With at least 30,000 drones expected to occupy U.S. airspace by 2020, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, is calling on government officials in Charlottesville and Albemarle County to do their part to safeguard Virginians against the use of drones by police, especially for surveillance and crowd control purposes. Specifically, Whitehead has provided the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council with a model resolution urging the General Assembly to prevent police agencies from utilizing drones outfitted with anti-personnel devices such as tasers and tear gas and prohibit the government from using data recorded via police spy drones in criminal prosecutions. Rutherford Institute attorneys have drafted and made available to the public language that can be adopted at all levels of government—local, state and federal—in order to address concerns being raised about the threats posed by drones to citizens' privacy and civil liberties.
The Rutherford Institute's materials on drones, including its letter to the Charlottesville City Council and Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, its model drone resolutions for local, state and federal governments, and the companion fact sheet, are available at www.rutherford.org.
"Once these drones take to the skies, there really will be no place to hide," said Whitehead. "If we are to have any hope of safeguarding our privacy rights, it needs to start with our elected representatives at all levels of government—local, state and federal—establishing clear limits on how and when these aerial, robotic threats to privacy and security can be used by law enforcement officials."
As The Rutherford Institute's fact sheet details, the FAA Reauthorization Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, has authorized the use of drones domestically for a wide range of functions, both public and private, governmental and corporate. Prior to this, drones had been confined to military use in the battlefields over Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet as 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. Aside from the very serious and grave implications for privacy and civil liberties raised by Whitehead, there are also a number of safety issues involved with drone technology, with the paramount concern being that drones have a history of malfunctioning mid-air. Drones are also vulnerable to hackers, allowing unauthorized persons to access information gathered via drone, or to take control of the drone's flight path. 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.
In calling on lawmakers to be proactive in safeguarding their constituents against drones, Whitehead warned against adopting legislation either too narrow in scope to have any serious impact on the widespread threat to privacy and civil liberties or providing law enforcement officials with greater leeway to use drones conditioned only on their first acquiring a court-issued warrant.
Charlottesville City Council Press Release
The Rutherford Institute has drafted a resolution and proposed that Charlottesville City Council consider it.
The resolution would urge both the state assembly and Congress to pass legislation.
"Prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court, and precluding the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel devices, meaning any projectile, chemical, electrical, directed-energy (visible or invisible), or other device designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being."
This could become a model for how a locality begins to address abuses by unmanned aerial vehicles even before they begin, and Charlottesville could set the standard.
City Councilor Dave Norris is expected to raise the topic under "other business" at tonight's City Council Meeting (not held last night because of the MLK holiday). Next month's meeting will be addressing human rights, and it would make sense to get this topic on the agenda. The City Council could put it on their agenda tonight.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Be at the City Council chambers at City Hall (the building next to the free speech wall and the pavilion) at 5 p.m. tonight to make sure you are one of the first 12 in line to sign up to speak for 3 minutes.
or Be there at 7 p.m. to show your support during the meeting. and email the city council at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask them to support this resolution. Use your own words and be polite. Thanks!
Natalie Wilson joined the NBC29 news team as a general assignment reporter in April 2012.Full Story
Natalie Wilson joined the NBC29 news team as a general assignment reporter in April 2012. She is a proud alum of Howard University and is currently pursuing her Master's in Communication at Johns Hopkins. Email/ Full Story