A group of legal experts testified [webcast] before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Wednesday regarding the growing need for new privacy laws because of the rapid advancement of drone technologies and their increased use. The escalation [AP report] in use and technology have outpaced current privacy laws, according to these experts. The Federal Aviation Administration [official website] has predicted there will be 7,500 civilian drones in the air in five years. They have also recently created six test sites for drones around the country and have accepted applications to create 37 more. The experts testified [hearing materials] that if the privacy laws surrounding the drones are not addressed, the full benefits of them may not be realized. One such proposal was a law requiring a warrant to be acquired before law enforcement agencies could use a drone for surveillance, except in emergency situations. While one expert called for a brightline federal law on the matter, another raised concerns this approach would be too broad and called for a state focused approach.
The use of drones by the US has been a growing concern, especially in a military context. Last week a federal appeals court reversed [JURIST report] a ruling on CIA drone records saying the CIA had to comment on the drone strike records. The week before that, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter [JURIST report] to Senator Rand Paul suggesting that a drone strike on US soil would be legal only in extraordinary circumstances following. In January, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson announced that he will begin investigating [JURIST report] the legality of the use of drone strikes. Following a request to allow an independent investigation [JURIST report] into the use of targeted killings last year, Emmerson stated that there is still no consensus among the international community as to the legality of the conduct.