Zoe Lofgren offers bill to limit domestic drone use

A new bill coauthored by a Bay Area congresswoman would establish due process protections for Americans against government-operated unmanned aerial drones in U.S. airspace.

H.R. 637, the Preserving American Privacy Act by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, would also forbid law enforcement and private drones from being armed with firearms or explosives while operating within U.S. airspace.

“The expanded use of drones on U.S. soil raises serious Constitutional and civil liberties issues that Congress needs to address,” Lofgren said in a news release. “These devices should be used in a safe, open, and responsible manner. This bill would ensure that drones follow strict guidelines to protect Americans’ privacy while still realizing their practical applications for science, border security, public safety, and commercial development.”

Said Poe: “Just because Big Brother can look into someone’s backyard doesn’t mean it should. Technology may change, but the Constitution does not.”

The bill would require that government agencies must obtain a warrant to use drones to collect information that can identify individuals in a private area, and get a court order and provide public notice beforehand to collect information that can identify individuals in defined public areas. Those requirements would be subject to exceptions for emergencies, border security and consent, however.

The bill also would forbid privately-operated drones from being used to capture images or sound recordings of people engaging in personal activities in certain circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    Great idea! Let the drone dump copies of its warrants on the ground as it nears its targets.

  • bbox231

    The “Scout” model which is being proposed by ACSO is spec’d to fly in maximum sustained winds of 50 km/h or about 32 mph. This isn’t much when compared to the seasonal winds we encounter pretty routinely in and around the Bay Area. Talk to any sailor or hang-glider pilot about how winds change (speed up, slow down, rise and fall) in relation to nearby buildings, trees or hills. . . With this specification, I expect the boys in blue will be chasing their errant gadget frequently, if they can fly it at all.

    Can’t fly in winter storms, can’t fly in the fog, frequently blown out in summer – – – let’s hope that the bad boys we’re hoping to catch with this thing will do their business on fair-weather days.

  • Elwood

    @ Bbox231 #2

    Damn, that’s certainly going to limit its ability to spy on innocent citizens and violate their civil rights!

  • bbox231

    Civil rights?


    Those two ponies were chased out of the proverbial barn LOOONG ago, dontcha think? We are clearly living in an age where data about your personal activities is being generated on a near-real-time basis, and I dont see too many folks up in arms about it. . . .

    Here’s hoping all of those who DO object to this new application of some pretty old (and rudimentary) technology have ALL destroyed (turning off doesn’t count) their cell phones, cancelled their credit cards, and dont spend any appreciable time on line.

    These other mechanisms generate a near continuous waterfall of data which flows over the dam of civil liberties. By comparison, this thing will generate a trickle of occassional data . . . . and, only on those days when winds aloft, precipitation, and/or local turbulence dont send our boys in blue chasing their $30000 toy downwind – instead of chasing the bad boys they were hoping to catch.

    This gadget is little more than a very small drop into a huge bucket of “big data” each of us are (seemingly) perfectly content to serve up on a minute-by-minute basis . . . . . Now, what was it you were objecting to?

  • Elwood

    @ 4

    Sarcasm is lost on some people who take themselves very, very seriously.

  • JohnW

    As Bill Maher might say in his “New Rules” segment:

    New Rule: If you are going to use a drone to peek into my back yard, you have to mow the lawn too.

  • bbox231

    @5 – Not lost at all, Elwood and every court needs its jester.

    There are a few of us in the room who do retain some modicum of seriousness when it comes to issues like privacy and civil rights.

  • Elwood

    @ 7

    Well whoop dee doo for you!

    Here’s the bad news about privacy. You don’t have any. Get over it.

    And your civil rights are limited to whatever the government wants you to have.

  • bbox231

    Ummmm . . . . yeah.

    Kinda the point made 7 hours ago – see post #4
    Glad you could finally join the party, Elwood.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Why would the government need drones flying over my house? Everything I write on these blogs, all e-mails & every word I speak on the telephone is recorded. Just like letters to my buddy Scott Dyleski in state prison. Even you 3 snipers using robotic names, are recorded. Just your friends & relatives don’t know who you are.

  • Elwood

    @ Bruce #10

    Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!

  • JohnW

    As for drones flying over my house, I look at it this way. They wouldn’t be as noisy as the law enforcement choppers that currently fly over my house.

  • bbox231

    @ #10 – so what you’re saying Bruce is that, from the perspective of privacy, that horse is kinda’ out of the barn already – right?