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Originally published July 27 2013

FAA is gearing up to spy on regular Americans: Agency admits drone operators have NO privacy obligations

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) Have privacy protections contained within the Constitution's Fourth Amendment become completely irrelevant in this modern age of technology? More and more unelected federal bureaucrats sure think so, as evidenced in responses to questions from members of Congress by an official of the Federal Aviation Administration.

According to a letter sent to Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas, from the FAA's acting administration, Michael P. Huerta, the agency doesn't believe that surveillance drone operators have any privacy obligations whatsoever. The startling admission prompted both lawmakers to complain that the agency is paving the way for federal authorities to collect as much private information on Americans as they want.

The lawmakers sent the FAA questions related to Americans' personal privacy as it relates to the FAA's planned integration of unnamed aerial vehicles into the National Airspace System.

Dodging the question

Barton and Markey, who chair and co-chair the congressional privacy caucus, sent the FAA a series of privacy-related questions seven months ago asking what protections the agency had in place in advance of granting approval for state, local and commercial organizations to fly drones beginning in 2015.

In its official reply, the agency skirted a direct question asking about what procedures drone operators would have to take in order to protect citizens' right to privacy.

"The FAA's primary mission is ensuring safety of the NAS (National Airspace System)," said the response. While acknowledging that indeed Americans would likely have "privacy concerns related to UAS operations," the FAA did not specifically address the question and did not say directly that drone operators would be required to follow privacy rules or honor constitutional privacy requirements.

Additional questions regarding FAA plans to observe and uphold the Fourth Amendment are included in "Question 7" in the letter. But again, the agency's response to all four of them is evasive, containing just a single dismissive paragraph that merely repeats that "privacy concerns" are something to consider without positively identifying specific steps the agency plans to do in order to uphold them.

"FAA does not appear to be prioritizing privacy and transparency measures in its plan to integrate nonmilitary drones into U.S. airspace," Markey said in a statement following receipt of the FAA's responses. "While there are benefits to using drones to gather information for law enforcement and appropriate research purposes, drones shouldn't be used to gather private information on regular Americans."

The Hill newspaper reported that federal agencies, as well as state and local police, have found that drones are cheaper to purchase and operate than helicopters. But privacy advocates and some lawmakers are concerned that the federal government has not put enough privacy protection rules in place for drones.

Federal agencies seem uninterested in the Constitution

Congress passed legislation in February that will permit the use of drones in U.S. skies on a widespread basis. In fact, the FAA believes that by 2020, there may be as many as 30,000 drones in operation around the country.

Privacy advocates already concerned about a developing surveillance society in the land of the free will have even more to worry about besides the tens of thousands of traffic and other cameras already in wide use throughout the country.

Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to properly address these concerns.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management noted during a committee hearing in July that the Department of Homeland Security was recommended by the Government Accountability Office nearly four years ago to take the lead on the regulating of drone usage around the country, but that DHS - which did not send a representative to testify - has so far dodged the recommendation.


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