Drones in the US

Drones often carry a bellicose and removed image, but they are not limited to unmanned Predator attacks in the global war on terror. The US Border Patrol utilizes Predator B remote drones for surveillance purposes and their use has been bolstered by increased border security measures. Other domestic uses include search and rescue operations, combating wildfires and dangerous police tactical operations.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed [PDF] in June 2013 that it has used drones domestically ten times. A 2012 comprehensive American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report on domestic drone use publicized that various police departments throughout the country have secured [PDF] government approval for drone use in limited capacities. Police deployments have stoked fears of "mission creep" with chilling effects of constant surveillance in a law enforcement embrace under the banner of crime reduction. The Fourth Amendment does not categorically prohibit warrantless aerial searches as the US Supreme Court ruled in California v. Ciraolo.

The hundreds of types of drones in operation span the gamut from Hummingbirds that weigh less than a single AA battery to massive aircraft the size of Boeing 737s. In July 2012, the US House Committee on Homeland Security encouraged Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to address the use of domestic drones, especially in relation to security and safety concerns. One such fear is that unmanned aerial vehicles flying in national air space will cause an increase in crashes. The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) predicts 7,500 civilian drones in use within the next five years and is anticipating the rapid increase by building six new test sites and approving the construction of 37 more.

The ACLU has documented the activity of state legislatures in responding to domestic drones, finding proposed legislation in 42 states, activity in 27 states and enactment in 6 states. Technological advancements have resulted in the increased use of drones domestically, which has lawmakers concerned that privacy laws are lagging far behind. Nearly all of the states' bills require law enforcement seeking to use drones to obtain a probable cause warrant, with exceptions in Arizona for drug crimes and human trafficking.

The FAA had forbidden the use of unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes until July 26, 2013, when it issued restricted certificates to an unnamed 'major energy company" in Alaska. In September 2012, President Obama signed the Modernization and Reform Act [PDF], allocating 63.4 billion dollars in part for the FAA to speed up its commercial approval process. Commercial entities have floated the idea of utilizing drones in the future. FedEx has expressed a desire for a commercial license in order to expedite their deliveries in emulation of large-scale military deliveries. Domino's Pizza posted a simulation video of a drone delivering pizzas to customers (DomiCopter), although the company confirmed no plans of pursuing drone delivery in the United States. A "Burrito Bomber" or "DomiCopter" may be in jest, but they demonstrate the vast potential of innovation in a field fraught with uncertainty.


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