Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., have introduced the Protecting Individuals From Mass Aerial Surveillance Act of 2015, which would require the federal government to obtain a warrant when it conducts aerial surveillance in the U.S.
A release from the senators says the bipartisan legislation would create critical safeguards for Americans’ privacy and provide certainty about the legal framework for aerial surveillance, including from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), high-quality digital cameras and cellphone tracking equipment.
“As technological advancements continue to impact the daily lives of Americans, the civil liberties of the nation’s citizens must not be infringed upon by the federal government,” says Heller. “This legislation protects those inherent rights from being trampled by the government’s intrusion from above and provides much needed clarity on what authority the federal government has related to aerial surveillance.”
The bill, which applies to both manned and unmanned aircraft, prohibits the government from soliciting to commercial/private operators to conduct surveillance that the government itself is not authorized to do. The government would also be prohibited from identifying persons who show up incidentally in surveillance, unless there is probable cause to believe such persons have committed a crime. Unlawfully collected information would be inadmissible in court.
The bill includes exceptions for border patrol (within 25 miles of land border), testing operations, public land surveillance (including surveying for weather-related damage), research, scoping for environmental dangers and illegal vegetation, and wildlife management.
It does not impact commercial operations or apply to state and local law enforcement agencies, the release notes.
SOAR Oregon, which represents the Oregon UAS industry, believes the bill supports the growth of UAS and, at the same time, protects individuals’ privacy.
“The bill codifies aspects of surveillance where the use of UAS will have more and more relevance and value in the very near term,” explains SOAR. “Because of the significantly greater capabilities of UAS in certain types of surveillance compared to manned aircraft, it is important to put in place safeguards that will ensure the information collected is not misused.
“This bill is an important step in this direction, and SOAR supports Sen. Wyden’s efforts to ensure that an individual’s expectation of privacy is protected without inhibiting the effective use of UAS as and when they are most needed to protect lives and property.”
The Center for Democracy & Technology, which advocates for civil liberties, also voiced support for the act.
“We believe the bill would establish meaningful protections from overbroad government aerial surveillance while preserving beneficial uses with less impact on civil liberties, such as government research and disaster relief, ‘ the center says.