Austin Scott’s effort to rein in domestic drones

An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night in 2010. AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth

An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night in 2010. AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth

For the last several months, civil libertarians have watched deadly, unmanned flying drones circle Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen with their unblinking eyes and constantly cocked ears.

What happens, they’ve worried, once that technology follows the U.S. military home?

Last week, farming websites in Iowa and Nebraska were scorched by rumors that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had launched drones over local cattle herds. As things turned out, the surveillance – the EPA was looking for evidence of large deposits of manure entering the water supply – was of the manned Cessna variety.

But it was during this Midwestern uproar that U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican who represents a large swath of South Georgia farmland, dropped the first piece of legislation designed to restrict the use of government-operated drones over American soil.

The measure would bar the government use of flying eyes and ears to gather evidence in criminal investigations, or to search for regulatory violations, without a proper search warrant.

We already have plenty of cameras monitoring our lives, but the government-owned ones are aimed at public spaces. They do not peek over fences into our backyards, Scott argues.

“We’re not opposed to the use of drones. But their use has to be consistent with the established rules with regard to search and seizure. The same thing that you would have to obtain to use a wiretap, you would have to have for the use of a drone,” Scott said. “This has the potential to be a huge invasion.”

H.R. 5925 includes exemptions for border patrols, and emergency use by law enforcement or national security authorities. Ultimately, Scott said, the legislation could address privacy rules when it comes to the commercial use of drones as well.

Because, face it. In only a few years, Captain Herb could be — via an unmanned spy in the sky — directing morning Atlanta traffic from his laptop while sitting at home in his jammies.

Scott’s legislation received a quick conversational boost from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has introduced a parallel measure. Paul, son of the yet-unbowed GOP presidential candidate, is considered a rising star in the party.

“He is the perfect senator to carry this language,” Scott said. “He’s got the ability to attract a lot of attention to the issue.”

Scott and Paul have had several opportunities to discuss the issue. Scott plays left field on the Republican congressional baseball team. Paul is the center fielder. “So we’re together a good bit,” Scott said.

Drones are indeed coming to your future – in part because they’re handy, in part because they’re cost effective.

Late last year, the Georgia State Patrol applied to a private company looking for candidates to test out a small drone – no larger than a sheet of paper – in SWAT operations. The GSP lost out.

Likewise, Georgia Tech’s public safety department applied for federal approval for a drone to help analyze Saturday football traffic. Also denied.

Even so, Scott’s decision to engage on this issue is significant, given that the Georgia Tech Research Institute is one of the nation’s premier centers for drone studies, operating from acreage around Menlo, Ga., near the Alabama border.

Georgia Tech has been turning up more uses for drones than Scott’s bill may be able to address.

Two Tech researchers, Lora Weiss and Gary McMurray, smartly declined to comment on the congressman’s effort to rein in domestic drones from the get-go. But they outlined the many areas that unmanned aircraft are likely to be used.

Take that earthquake in Haiti, Weiss said. “Many people on the ground had cell phones, but not cell phone towers. You could easily put up drones as mobile flying towers,” she said.

The same thing with that post-tsunami nuclear disaster in Japan. Better to have an unmanned drone track a radioactive cloud than a plane with a pilot in it, she said.

Weiss is also researching the use of drones as more efficient forest-fire monitors. One drone could use thermal images to spot a flame – another could go in close for a visual. She’s involved in developing means by which multiple drones can coordinate with each other – with minimum human involvement.

Then there’s agriculture. McMurray said farmers in Argentina, South Korea and Japan already hire outfits that send small, unmanned helicopters over their fields to make assessments.

Drones could be used to detect diseased fields and administer surgical strikes. “As opposed to blasting the entire field, which is a waste of money with a huge environmental impact, we can target the application of the chemicals to just the impacted areas,” McMurray said.

And the size of some of these future agricultural drones? Some could be small enough to be owned and operated by individual farmers.

This is where Scott’s measure may fall short. It is all well and good to be suspicious of government snooping. But how do you secure your own domestic air space against citizen-on-citizen prying – inadvertent or otherwise?

The EPA is one thing. But there may be no greater threat to American privacy than a homeowners association with its own air force.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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55 comments Add your comment

Todd

June 16th, 2012
9:36 am

Privacy and protection from our prying government please

Austin not for me

June 16th, 2012
9:37 am

Perhaps Austin is afraid of what a drone might see if it flies too close to his domestic untranquility? Maybe he thinks it might see his domestic fights and his wife’s tears. What a creep.

The Snark

June 16th, 2012
9:50 am

It’s a strange day when you’ve got Rand Paul in the center and Austin Scott on his left. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

refudiate the nra

June 16th, 2012
9:52 am

If drones are outlawed only outlaws will have drones….

Major Tom

June 16th, 2012
10:09 am

Earth to Austin Scott: Wear heavier tin-foil in your hat. The drones will never see you then.

Centrist

June 16th, 2012
10:17 am

“Georgia Tech has been turning up more uses for drones than Scott’s bill may be able to address.”

* Spy on closed UGA football team practices.

* Confirm the majority of UGA athletes don’t go to class.

Centrist

June 16th, 2012
10:21 am

“Georgia Tech has been turning up more uses for drones than Scott’s bill may be able to address.”:

* Spy on closed UGA football team practices.

* Confirm the majority of UGA athletes don’t go to class.

Auntie Christ

June 16th, 2012
10:30 am

I can only imagine the upsurge in sales of tar and feathers if a government official had gone to Jefferson, Washington, Adams, or Patrick Henry or any other citizen in circa 1800, and told them that someone in the government would sit atop a mountain with a telescope, and monitor the activities on their property; that this is legal because citizens can have “no expectation of privacy” on their own property.

And I can only imagine the disdain with which they view us today, for having sold out so cheaply, for being so gullible to think that we would be secure if we just allow the government to spy without warrants, cops to establish road blocks, where unreasonable searches and seizures have the imprimatur of law, where ’stop and frisk’ is not only tolerated but applauded, and dozens more situations where we have ceded our rights because law enforcement claims their ‘hands are tied,’ and they can’t catch criminals unless we give up more of our rights. We’ve meekly accepted fascist judges rulings that we ‘have no expectation of privacy’ in our cars, our homes and on our property. Why should we worry about terrorists destroying America, when we’re doing such a bang up job of it ourselves.

Liberty

June 16th, 2012
10:52 am

Better idea: Shut down the EPA!

Auntie Christ

June 16th, 2012
11:20 am

Better idea: Shut down the EPA!

Good idea. They’re keeping me from getting my RDA of mercury, arsenic, selenium and other heavy metals and pollutants from America’s rivers. And, my kids love catching those fish with two heads, it makes for great show and tell.

Michael #1

June 16th, 2012
11:31 am

Scott and Rand Paul, can you say “Paranoia.”

DannyX

June 16th, 2012
11:53 am

Auntie Christ is right. Regulation of the environment has been a disaster. Gone are the days when you could go to a river and become entranced by the beautiful fires raging on the river’s surface. Have you ever seen a sunset in Bejing? It’s absolutely gorgeous the way the sun light filters through the smog creating a cool red glow effect. We had all these beautiful things once put the darned Republicans ruined it with their darned EPA.

double

June 16th, 2012
11:59 am

Now we have the all seeing eye.

Rabbit

June 16th, 2012
12:30 pm

Ever seen Minority Report? Oh, it would be “efficient” to utilize technology to monitor the citizenry. If we watched everybody all the time, we could ALWAYs catch crime and we might even eliminate a lot of crime. The catch? Easy to recall as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Watergate burglary tomorrow. In the wrong hands, we would be subjugated to a dictator, innocent political enemies hounded and probably arrested for something. Imagine the marriage of the drone and the Patriot Act.
Sure, there might be good things to come from droning the US. For me, it’s NO, unequivocally, NO under every circumstance.

jd

June 16th, 2012
12:31 pm

Why stop with drones? How about those cameras mounted in 4 directions on squad cars that see and record 10,000 license plates an hour — letting law enforcement track your every move – especially when you tie in the data from all those cameras at every intersection. And, how about the infrared cameras which can look in side your home – no search warrant required. And, how many warrantless searches of your cell phone records, google searches, and other internet activity — even more intrusive than drones. No, drones are just a straw man — a distraction. There are far worse intrusions made legitimate by the last administration under a law called the “PATRIOT ACT”.

sid

June 16th, 2012
12:51 pm

big brother wants to put a tracking device in your noggin’….

Rabbit

June 16th, 2012
12:59 pm

Ever seen Minority Report? Oh, it would be “efficient” to utilize technology to monitor the citizenry. If we watched everybody all the time, we could ALWAYs catch crime and we might even eliminate a lot of crime. The catch? Easy to recall as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Watergate burglary tomorrow. In the wrong hands, we would be subjugated to a dictator, innocent political enemies hounded and probably arrested for something. Imagine the marriage of the drone and the Patriot Act.
Sure, there might be good things to come from droning the US. For me, it’s NO, unequivocally, NO under every circumstance.
Further, for those of you who believe you still have robust 4th amendment rights, study the issue. Watergate’s burglary probably could have been justified by Nixon under the Patriot Act. There are three justices on the Supreme Court who clearly don’t believe that there should be consequences for illegal searches and seizures. People respond saying, well the caught were guilty and shouldn’t get off on a technicality. That technicality keeps those of us who aren’t guilty from having to submit to the indignity of a search on the side of the road, in our homes if the local police chief is overzealous.

The next Supreme Court appointment very well may decide if the 4th amendment (and the 5th to some extent) disappears by court decisions altogether. If you think long term, thing long and hard about this.

RDH

June 16th, 2012
1:10 pm

I say see a drone shot it down after a few mil hits the ground spying on the public will be a second thought

B. Thenet

June 16th, 2012
1:27 pm

“There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience”

I am not surprised that Rand Paul, a whiner who won’t even let TSA agents frisk him, supports this.

Funny how wall to wall cameras in the inner cities is not a big deal, take the same surveillance to the white folks in the rural areas…and now it is a matter of constitutional freedom.

Bernie

June 16th, 2012
1:28 pm

I Think there should be more wide spread implementation and use of the Stop and frisk of the Farmers and rural communities out west. Just think of the reduction of the meth epidemic that rages among those communities. I can no longer purchase Advil cold and sinus without showing ID and a signature here in Georgia because of such abuse.

wumpyfish

June 16th, 2012
1:43 pm

The irony is when Bush/Cheney were listing to your phone calls and reading your e-mails it was patriotic because “we” had nothing to hide(or protect)..I guess it just depends on your party affiliation to skew the Bill of Rights.

wumpyfish

June 16th, 2012
1:47 pm

Austin Scott and Will Rogers, weekend in Vegas, baby, or Hangover part 3 and Rand Paul plays Doug in the trunk.

Jeff

June 16th, 2012
1:56 pm

Austin has repeatedly DEFENDED the PATRIOT ACT, which has FAR worse provisions in it than simply flying a drone.

That said, a flying object roughly the size of a large bird could be confused for a bird. And thanks to distance perspective, even a larger flying object could be confused for a bird if far enough away. Not that I would encourage anyone to destroy government property, just saying accidents happen.

Bernie

June 16th, 2012
1:56 pm

I do not understand exactly what is the problem? Especially when it comes to surveillance of phones,emails and everything else personal, the majority of that particular population did not see or have any problem at all with that! Just a little fly over. Here in Atlanta, there is always a plane overhead! :)

Road Scholar

June 16th, 2012
1:58 pm

“big brother wants to put a tracking device in your noggin’….”

Well for some people at least something would be in there!

Overreaction again. I declare special police actions 24/7/365! There .

Jason

June 16th, 2012
2:01 pm

Please… as soon as private business starts using them, the GOP will fall in love with domestic drone usage. Can’t update your Facebook page during a Falcons game because 50,000 other iphone users are overloading the cell tower? Here comes drones from AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon to the rescue! Tired of waiting for the traffic report on the radio or outdated info on your cell phone? That’s ok because you can subscribe to iOnTraffic(TM) which will use an air force of drones to monitor traffic not just on the interstates but everywhere.

And just wait till Papa John’s starts using them for delivery. After that happens being against drones will be considered anti-business and by extension, anti-patriotic. Drones are here to stay. It’s just a question of who will use them and for what.

Bernie

June 16th, 2012
2:16 pm

Remember the slippery slope of the Patriot Act, passed and signed on a late night Sunday evening after midnight in 2001? Nooooo…that was sooo too long ago! Read by only be a very few select hand full from both houses, Zero debate by either party or any real vocal dissent for fear of being denigrated and called a traitor. Ultimately approved by a majority of one party in both houses.

and now the Republicans are now claiming and complaining that President OBAMA is overeaching! Kettle ……meet Pot.

Will in Roswell

June 16th, 2012
4:28 pm

At least Austin Scott is trying to do something to preserve what little privacy we have left.

Attack Dog

June 16th, 2012
5:12 pm

1. Will some Obamaphobic Dixiecrat explain the theorical difference between having a police helicopter and a drone watching you? 2. Where are all those Dixiecrats who say that if you are not guilt, why worry? 3. Why isn’t Austin Scott introducing job creation bills?

Attack Dog

June 16th, 2012
5:19 pm

Austin Scott isn’t doing a darn thing to preserve privacy. This is pure Dixecrat pandering and if you defend this silliness, you are a panderee! Drones can do a lot cheaply checking all those rural conservative areas for pot fields, coke warehouses, and meth labs. When was the last time you found one of the three in a ghetto?

Attack Dog

June 16th, 2012
5:20 pm

If Big Brother want to put a tracking device in a Dixiecrats head, there is plenty of room and they have to adjust for the echo.

Bernie

June 16th, 2012
5:38 pm

Will in Roswell @ 4:28 pm – What you really mean is for the YAHOOS in his district who are now just now waking up to the fact that just maybe all of this rush to suspect the American people of nefarious actions does not somehow apply to them because they are somehow more of American than the rest of us. Oh I get it now!

Come on President Obama, how fast can we get those drones in the air and all over South Georgia, I am starting think they have something to hide down there. Remember, they have always said “The SOUTH will rise Again” maybe they are planning so kind of rising down there.

Proud Voter

June 16th, 2012
8:28 pm

What are you all doing that you wouldn’t want a drone to fly over your area? I’m sure the people in New York City sure wish a drone had been watching out for them on September 10, 2001.

Kris (eye in da sky)

June 16th, 2012
9:25 pm

As I shake my head, A south Ga. republican wants to do something for us….Hummmm The drones can spot illegal aliens as well as legitimate farm workers…Think on that. Ask Double Dip deal state prisoners will not pick the crops.

James

June 16th, 2012
9:27 pm

Wumpyfish is well and truly a fool.
Obama is listening to far more conversation and reading far more emails than Bush did. he is also killing US citizens without warrant or due process via drone strikes. If you think Obama is more protective of your civil liberties than Bush was you are a gullible idiot.

native

June 16th, 2012
9:51 pm

Privacy should be protected. Drones threaten privacy. Therefore, drones should be prohibited.

Proud Voter

June 16th, 2012
9:54 pm

So many are naiive at best. Sad. You all probably would have protested the news that the earth is not flat, too. Technology is a double-edged sword. It must be used wisely, but it is necessary to have. I doubt if any of our enemies have any reluctance to use a drone or anything similar or better on us. Shall we play nice or be dead?

Bart

June 16th, 2012
10:46 pm

So we’re worried about the EPA, but we’re not worried about, say, Google? At least EPA activities can be discovered through the Freedom of Information Act. Google is continually taking new photos of all of us, and gathering all sorts of other information about us, and there’s no way any of us can find out what they know about us or what they’re doing with it.

Auntie Christ

June 16th, 2012
11:46 pm

Proud voter, the sad and naive one here is you, and it’s sheeple like you that have allowed the incessant creep of government into every facet of our lives. You naively believe that because a technology is available, we have to accept that our government can and will use it to invade our lives. The soviets and the germans of 1936 loved sheeple like you, they could count on you to meekly accept government intrusion into their life and not protest any government excess.

Kris T.

June 17th, 2012
12:12 am

Sweet dreams and flying machines. James Taylor

Sweet dreams and flying machines
In pieces on the ground

If anyone can crash it Its a GA republican or Redneck. Me I might be a redneck..

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Buckhead Boy

June 17th, 2012
6:07 am

The usual argument that, any threat to poisioning us with impunity would be a job-killer, might be more applicable here.

Attack Dog

June 17th, 2012
7:03 am

Democrats warned Dixiecrats to remember that the Patriot Act would apply regardless of who was President. What ever happen to security, terrorists, and 9-11?

rawmilkdrinker

June 17th, 2012
7:09 am

I’d say just just read the 4th amendment and abide by it. As for being paranoid, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that “they” aren’t really out ot get you.

ForTheSheeple

June 17th, 2012
7:35 am

1984 is here. Oh, and chocolate is 5% higher today, making it cheaper than yesterday.

I love it…so true:

“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”

Bar None

June 17th, 2012
7:37 am

With all the junkets he and his lovely bride are taking, I’m surprised he has time to work on any legislation. His 14 years in the House were certainly without any meaningful work to show for the time. Daddy’s boy has done made good, but the poor people of the 8th suffer. How could this moron have beaten Jim Marshall?

Capitol Idea

June 17th, 2012
7:57 am

Mr. Galloway,

This notice is to inform you that our sky patrol has recently determined that your lawn is infested with an unacceptable number of dandelions. Please correct this condition immediately.

Yours Truly,
The Neighborhood Watch

Jack

June 17th, 2012
8:01 am

Large deposits of manure have been spotted in and around the White House.

TruthBe

June 17th, 2012
8:21 am

Government is too big and too intrusive. People did you know that the local T-SPOST has a extra BILLION dollars of spending in it for what ever the countries and cities want to do with it. Vote NO on it . Spending is out of control. Just look around and see for yourself how corrupt the local governments are. Examples: Gwinnett County and City of Atlanta. Crooks all of them. And we haven’t even mention the Federal Government and all of it’s corruption. Isn’t that so Mr.President Obama? Corruption at it’s finest.

TruthBe

June 17th, 2012
8:28 am

Attack Dog

June 16th, 2012
5:20 pm

If Big Brother want to put a tracking device in a Dixiecrats head, there is plenty of room and they have to adjust for the echo.

All you leftwing nuts know how to do is criticize others. The dromes are another form of big brother. The prevents and child molesters of the TSA are another problem. When is enough enough??????