What is a drone?

A drone is an aerial vehicle without an on-board pilot. They come in a variety of packages, from large military ones used for missile strikes to smaller versions designed as platforms for surveillance. The smaller surveillance drones are being created in tiny versions able to maneuver into previously inaccessible places or hover outside windows. Drones are often called “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAV) or “unmanned aerial systems” (UAS).

What dangers do domestic drones represent?

Drones allow for unprecedented surveillance and intrusion on our privacy. They are much less expensive and more flexible than stationary cameras or helicopters, thereby creating possibilities for 24/7 spying on large segments of the population. Newer cameras have the ability to hover over cities, picking up many square miles of information that can be zoomed in on later. License plate readers and facial recognition software allow for tracking of individuals going to doctor appointments, places of worship, or political activities. Drone manufacturers are exploring their ability to fire rubber bullets and tear gas for crowd control. That’s why drones’ threat to our constitutional rights is being called a “gamechanger.”

Are domestic governmental authorities seriously considering getting drones?

The Federal Aviation Authority has been mandated to integrate drones into our domestic aviation system by 2015. Here in St. Louis, Police Chief Dotson has already begun exploring the application process for a drone right here in our city.

How much of a right to privacy do we have out in public?

Even when we’re on public streets or parks, our right to privacy still remains partially protected. We can’t be stalked, for example, or x-rayed under our clothing. We have a reasonable expectation that we won’t be digitally tracked or that records of our behavior won’t  be indefinitely retained for future law enforcement use. We should not have to worry that a drone is zooming in on our diary entries while we sit on a park bench. While our current laws have not kept pace with modern technology, a recent Supreme Court decision outlawed 24/7 GPS tracking devices and the minority opinion in that case called for court review of the privacy question in light of new concerns. And we don’t have to wait for the courts to take action to protect ourselves.

Aren’t there some positive uses for drones?

Yes. Drones could be used to chase fleeing felons, search for a missing child, or to get information on tornado damage. But these relatively rare functions can also be accomplished with current technologies such as helicopters, by fire departments or private agencies. We don’t need to open ourselves up to the threats posed by drones in the hands of law enforcement.

Who’s pushing for domestic drone use?

Police departments always want the newest, shiniest technology whether it’s truly needed or not. And they are backed by a huge lobby of drone manufacturers who are looking for domestic profits now that overseas military operations may be winding down.

What if non-governmental groups want drones?

Our Bill of Rights protects us from government overreach, not private entities. This is for good reason. News agencies or private individuals do not have the authority to arrest us, indict us, or throw us in jail. They can’t audit our tax returns to intimidate us into restricting our free speech. Of course, private entities would be subject to privacy laws, and it remains to be seen if adequate protections can be devised. How will we know, for instance, if a neighbor is flying a miniature drone over our backyard? One thing is for sure–we need to reasonably restrict government access to private data, so that non-governmental groups do not become the data-collection arm of the government.

What can we do to protect our privacy and stop drones in St. Louis?

Join DroneFreeStL and let your voice be heard in the fight to maintain our constitutional rights. Check out our web page (DroneFreeStl.org), Facebook page (http://tinyurl.com/DroneFreeStL) and Twitter account (@dronefreestl) for further information and action alerts as the campaign develops.