A RQ-4 Global Hawk drone aircraft (Photo : REUTERS)
Earlier this year, President Obama signed a law directing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create a new set of rules that clears the way for using unmanned drone aircraft for domestic affairs, reports Cleveland.com. These remote-controlled aircraft have been used for years in the War on Terror - in Yemen and Somali as well as Iraq and Afghanistan - and some advocates see their potential in regulating traffic, monitoring border security and bringing domestic criminals to justice.
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The legislation quickly drew fire from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Watchdog and a number of other privacy groups.
"They raise the prospect of bringing surveillance to a whole new level," Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU, told Cleveland.com.
The American public, however, has mixed feelings about the use of drones at home, according to a recent poll by USA Today.
About 80 percent of poll respondents support the use of drones in search and rescue missions, and about two-thirds support using drones to track down criminals and protect the U.S. border from illegal crossings.
But in matters related to traffic monitoring and privacy, Americans are much more weary. Less than one in four support the use of drones to issue speeding tickets, and four of five raised concerns over routine use of drones by law enforcement agencies.
"Americans clearly support using drone technology in special circumstances, but they are a bit leery of more routine use by local lawenforcement agencies," poll director Patrick Murray told USA Today.
Stanely, who has signed a petition against the domestic use of drones, noted that drones carry high-definition cameras, heat sensors, automatic license plate readers, and they eventually may carry facial recognition technology. They can also track up to 65 targets across 65 square miles.
However, this same technology that threatens our feelings of privacy is what makes drones such effective instruments for rescue and policing agencies.
Ben Gielow, general counsel of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group, told USA Today the poll demonstrates that people understand the benefits of using the aircraft in dangerous situations, such as searches, fires and disasters.
"Unmanned aircraft help save time, save money and, most importantly, save lives," Gielow said.
Still, critics like Ryan Calo, director of privacy at Stanford University's Center for Internet and Security, worry that the drones will replace the work of traditional law enforcement.
"I'm worried about the next phase of policing that's completely automated," Calo told USA Today.
In a way, it's already happening, drones or not.
Many states have adopted traffic cameras to watch for crossing red lights and speeding. Tickets and fines are then issued to those who are caught on camera breaking the law.
A recent bill was brought before the New York State Legislature, pushing for the approval of speed cameras on New York City streets.