January 27, 2013

Our View: Maine should pass rules for police use of drones

There are no rules currently to govern when it's OK to watch us with unmanned aircraft.

It's not science fiction, it's science fact. The same technology that allows unmanned drones to hunt and kill terrorists in remote mountain hide-outs in southern Asia could also be used at home to conduct surveillance on ordinary Americans.

Drones can fly or hover, and record images of people's activities without their knowledge. This might be useful to law enforcement policing undeveloped border crossings and other hard-to-reach spots, but it could get out of hand if all of us had to worry about being seen by an eye in the sky recording our movements every time we stepped outside.

While the Federal Aviation Administration is preparing to relax standards for unmanned craft, the state should consider creating rules that set standards for police use of these drones.

Requiring police to get a warrant if they use the technology would be a good start. Setting time limits around how long a person's movements can be tracked should also be explored..

A bill sponsored by state Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, would start that process. It is backed by the ACLU of Maine.

Without a law, we could see a day when everyone in Maine is under surveillance all of the time, and records of our every move are kept in databases. That may sound far-fetched, but the technology exists now, so it's up to us to set some rules.


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