Drones and the Future of Aerial Surveillance

The George Washington Law Review

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Drones and the Future of Aerial Surveillance, George Washington Law Review.  

On February 15, 2015 the FAA announced historic regulations that for the first time in American history will allow small aircraft without onboard pilots — drones — to fly in the national airspace. Legal and technological developments have thus made it all but certain that drones will be a catalyst for new ways of thinking about privacy and surveillance. This is especially the case because the drones that the FAA has approved for operation in the national airspace (small aircraft under 55 pounds) are the exact type of drones that local law enforcement will be most likely to acquire and use. Thus, the battle over privacy and aerial surveillance will be fought in statehouses throughout the country. This article seeks to frame future discussions about how states will handle the privacy issues associated with aerial surveillance.

The article takes the counterintuitive position that technology may make unmanned aerial surveillance more protective of privacy than manned surveillance. It further argues that scholars and legislators should move beyond a warrant-based, technology centric approach to protecting privacy from aerial surveillance. Such an approach is unworkable, counterproductive, and may stifle efforts to enact more privacy protective legislative regimes. Instead, this article proposes that legal reforms should focus on excluding low altitude flights and surveillance coupled with imposing limits on persistent surveillance, requiring enhanced accountability procedures for data retention and access, and creating new transparency, accountability and oversight measures.

A Discussion About Civilian Drones, Privacy and FAA Test Sites

Professor Gregory McNeal appeared on MSNBC to discuss the FAA’s selection of civilian drone testing sites in nine states.  During the six minute interview McNeal discussed the positive uses of drones, and some of the privacy concerns raised by drone critics.  One of his articles in Forbes was excerpted during the interview and was a central part of the discussion with MSNBC host Craig Melvin.  Professor McNeal has testified before Congress about the integration of civilian drones into U.S. airspace and has written about military drones in an award winning article forthcoming in the Georgetown Law Journal.  His research about military drones is funded by a $175,000 grant and will be published as a book next year.  

http://player.theplatform.com/p/2E2eJC/EmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_melvin_drones_140104

McNeal Testimony Regarding Drones Privacy and Surveillance

I recently testified before the House Judiciary Committee regarding drones and domestic surveillance.  Pepperdine ran a story on the testimony which I’ve pasted below.

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Associate Professor of Law Gregory McNeal testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary on May 17 regarding the use of unmanned aerial systems, known commonly as drones, for surveillance purposes inside the U.S. Professor McNeal, an expert in national security law and policy, cautioned against the use of broadly worded warrant requirements as a tool to protect privacy or public safety. Instead, he recommended surveillance legislation that would require more transparency in the use of these systems by law enforcement.

McNeal’s testimony offered various considerations for pending legislation, including arguing against blanket prohibitions on the use of drones for the collection of evidence or information unless authorized by a warrant, and the argument that broadly worded use restrictions that prohibit use of evidence gathered by drones exceed the parameters of the Fourth Amendment and may not serve to protect privacy. Furthermore, McNeal argued that Congress should eschew drone specific legislation and instead look to legislating what places are entitled to privacy protection and clearly define search terminology including terms such as surveillance and private property.

“What’s interesting about working in national security is that there is a foreign affairs and international law aspect to my work that was one strand of my research, drones being used on battlefields,” McNeal said. “But, national security also encompasses domestic law enforcement, homeland security, and all manner of government surveillance and tracking. Those issues also relate to my teaching, specifically criminal procedure and criminal law.”

McNeal noted that his writing on the topic began when policymakers became interested in how drone technology would be used in the United States and what the legal implications of such use might be. That writing, he said, was in the form of short essays that have appeared in Forbes and longer draft papers that will soon be published law review articles. The writing provided an opportunity for McNeal to speak at the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International national conference.

“This was the biggest gathering of manufacturers in the aerospace industry and my panel was focused on privacy law and surveillance,” McNeal said. “From that experience I began hearing from legislators at the federal level and from various state governments, to the point where about once every other week over the past year I’ve been fielding a phone call or an email from someone asking me to comment on draft legislation. All of that came to a head last week with my invitation to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.”

McNeal is a professor at Pepperdine University where his research and teaching focus on national security law and policy, criminal law and procedure and international law. He previously served as Assistant Director of the Institute for Global Security, co-directed a transnational counterterrorism grant program for the U.S. Department of Justice, and served as a legal consultant to the Chief Prosecutor of the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions on matters related to the prosecution of suspected terrorists held in the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is a Forbes contributor where he writes a column about law, policy and security.

University of Washington: Drones, Privacy, and Surveillance

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On Thursday November 1st, at 12 noon I will be making a presentation entitled Drones on the Homefront: Privacy at Risk?  This presentation is based on my paper Drones and Privacy Governance, a short abstract of that paper appears below. 

Unmanned systems (drones) and other technological innovations raise serious questions about modern conceptions of privacy. This paper examines the constitutional doctrine related to aerial surveillance and technology, and finds that current doctrine is unlikely to prevent the use of unmanned systems. The paper next addresses calls to create a statutory requirement that will subject the use of unmanned systems to the warrant requirement. These calls are rejected because they fail to protect privacy, while unnecessarily hampering legitimate law enforcement efforts. To best protect privacy, the paper suggests various mechanisms of democratically centered privacy governance, and a regulatory regime to govern the use of unmanned systems. The paper’s appendix includes a model bill appropriate for adoption by cities, states, and the federal government. The bill outlines the various privacy governance measures discussed in the body of the paper. 

CU Boulder: Drones on the Homefront, Is Privacy At Risk?

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On Thursday October 11th at 12pm I will be making a presentation based on my paper Drones and Privacy Governance.  The event will be open to the public and refreshments will be served.  

Here is the abstract of my paper: 

 Unmanned systems (drones) and other technological innovations raise serious questions about modern conceptions of privacy. This paper examines the constitutional doctrine related to aerial surveillance and technology, and finds that current doctrine is unlikely to prevent the use of unmanned systems. The paper next addresses calls to create a statutory requirement that will subject the use of unmanned systems to the warrant requirement. These calls are rejected because they fail to protect privacy, while unnecessarily hampering legitimate law enforcement efforts. To best protect privacy, the paper suggests various mechanisms of democratically centered privacy governance, and a regulatory regime to govern the use of unmanned systems. The paper’s appendix includes a model bill appropriate for adoption by cities, states, and the federal government. The bill outlines the various privacy governance measures discussed in the body of the paper.