Colorado’s Mark Udall, a privacy watchdog, stumps for domestic drones

Posted: May 8, 2013 in Constitution, local news, Police State, tech
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By Allison Sherry
The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Udall has worked to carve out a reputation on Capitol Hill as the Senate watchdog to the Obama Administration on intelligence gathering and privacy issues.

He successfully fought to prohibit the IRS from reading Americans’ e-mails without a warrant. He pushed last year to amend federal law to better protect Americans from having their communications collected. He opposed the reauthorization of the 2011 Patriot Act because it gave the federal government extensive access to private records and the power to wiretap individuals.

Now, Udall is spinning a sunnier side to unmanned machines that fly in the sky with cameras.

At a speech Wednesday here to entrepreneurs and business leaders in the unmanned aerial technology sector, Udall urged development of the technology, saying it will help people.

“We need to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the American psyche in a way that isn’t threatening or scary,” he said, in remarks at the National Press Club. “Many here today have likely recognized that I’m deliberately not using the word ‘drone’ because it carries a stigma. Most Americans don’t think about monitoring crops, search-and-rescue operations or the numerous other civilian uses of this technology. They think of Hellfire missiles and the headline-grabbing work our government is doing overseas.”

Udall’s parsing of the differencesbetween civilian and militaryuse of drones comes at a time the inexpensive unmanned aerial systems sector is rapidly advancing both among local governments and private citizens and has the potential to create newjobs inColorado.

Udall, along with other Colorado officials, is urging the Federal Aviation Administration to make Colorado a test site for unmanned aircraft systems.

Colorado would be a good test spot for the FAA because it is already a significant hub for national space research and development and the state “has some of the most diverse terrain in the continental United States” providing a wide range of conditions for testing, according to a letter signed by the eight elected officials.

Already, at least one local law enforcement agency employs unmanned aerial systems to help do its work.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office was the first agency in the country to use drones to do its work .

The little unmanned copters in Grand Junction have helped numerous search and rescue operations and aided a high-profile arson investigation. The county also uses them to document trash collection — a requirement of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The future of drones used by private individuals could include farmers who buy unmanned systems to view crops, or the landowner who uses them to survey property lines. News organizations could use them to do buzzes over heavily-clogged highways for traffic reports.

To keep the checks and balances intact, Udall plans proposed legislation that would prohibit individuals or private businesses from spying on another person using a privately operated drone.

The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking the use of government-operated drones.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the organization’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, is calling for “common sense” privacy protections to make sure the government isn’t overstepping bounds on use of unmanned aerial systems.

As for privately operated drones, Stanley said the law is less clear.

“We wouldn’t want to stifle … the value of free speech,” he said. “We need to wait and see how the technology unfolds. There are existing laws that cover some privacy protections. If you’re looking in someone’s third-floorbedroom window, that’s already illegal whether you use a ladder or a drone.”

Allison Sherry: 202-662-8907,

Read more:Colorado’s Mark Udall, a privacy watchdog, stumps for domestic drones – The Denver Post
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