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    Politico: Domestic drones gain ground

    Politico reports that companies that sell aerial drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, “UAVs”) are gearing up for a big push, which has privacy and civil liberty implications. (See a recent post for background info on UAVs and moves in state and federal legislatures concerning privacy and restrictions on such domestic use of aerial drones.) Politico reports:

    The unmanned aerial vehicle industry could pump millions of dollars and thousands of jobs into states already chafing from sequestration and looking to inject new funds into their local economies.

    But the cash influx could leave many members of Congress walking on political minefields as privacy advocates warn of potential infringement by drones and the unrelated issue of targeted killing operations by the Pentagon and CIA draws more fire.

    Alarmed privacy advocates say drone technology could be used for nefarious purposes, and even journalists could use it to intrude on the reasonable expectation of privacy. […]

    The competition for six congressionally mandated test sites has drawn 50 teams from 37 states. Set to be picked by the end of this year, the sites would be able to test the technology for a five-year period. […]

    At the outset of an FAA two-hour online listening session to gather public comments on privacy issues, Jim Williams, who heads the FAA’s unmanned aircraft integration efforts, said the agency wouldn’t respond to the concerns of each individual caller. But he did say that “there are many questions that must be answered before [the agency] is ready for safe integration.” […]

    Delays in selecting the federal test sites, Williams said, came because the agency wanted to be sure it could “adequately address the privacy concerns as they relate to operations.” […]

    The Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties group based in Charlottesville, Va., argued the FAA should go on record with its views on data collection by unmanned systems.

    “UAS, which are capable of videotaping the facial expressions of people on the ground from hundreds of feet in the air, will usher in a new era of surveillance in our society,” said policy analyst Michael Khavari. “No person, whether he is at a political rally, exiting a house of worship or simply walking around downtown will be safe from the prying eyes of these devices.”

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