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Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives focused on the Fourth Amendment implications of domestic UAV surveillance at a hearing May 17, but did not get a unified message from witnesses on how to tackle the issue.

The ACLU’s Chris Calabrese implored the House Judiciary subcommittee to support a warrant requirement for drone use by law enforcement — backing a measure from Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) that would put that into law. Other panelists, though, raised concerns about hypothetical scenarios such a rule could create: for example, when a UAV inadvertently captures evidence of a crime, but law enforcement is prevented from using it because a warrant was not secured.

“I think it would defy reason to say to the victim, 'Well, we know who the perpetrator is, but we’re going to let that perpetrator go because we didn’t have a warrant and there’s some legislation that says we can’t use it,'” said John Villasenor, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Members from both parties seem to agree that Congress needs to take a lead when it comes to domestic UAV use. “Congress, in the area of drones, needs to set the standards rather than let the courts, down the road, set the standards,” Rep. Poe said.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said that UAVs are such a game-changer on the technological front that the Fourth Amendment — which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures — is not enough. “There are going to have to be a body of statutes that go into some of this in detail,” he said

Lawmakers indicated the issue could be dealt with in a bipartisan manner. “I think we agree on a great deal on this area,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).

Several pieces of UAV legislation have been introduced this Congress, mostly focused on preserving privacy by requiring warrants for police to use information gathered by UAVs, and preventing UAV weapons use on domestic soil.

Posted in: Washington News
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