House Judiciary Chairman: Congress Needs to Consider Restricting Drones

Several bills have been introduced that would require warrants for drone use.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., gives his opening remarks on Capitol Hill, Feb. 5, 2013, prior to the committee's hearing on immigration.
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The House Judiciary Committee needs to consider legislation that would limit domestic drone use, panel chairman Bob Goodlatte said Wednesday.

Goodlatte, a Republican congressman from Virginia, told reporters at a breakfast in Washington, D.C., Wednesday that current privacy laws likely aren't good enough to protect Americans from undue surveillance by unmanned aerial vehicles.

"I'm very open to people's concerns about Big Brother's eye in the sky and the questions raised about due process rights as a result of that," he said. "Yes, legislation is something we'll consider."

Earlier this month, Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas reintroduced the Preserving American Privacy Act of 2012, a bill cosponsored by Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using a drone and would completely restrict private surveillance. At the time, Poe said that "nobody should be able to use drones for whatever purpose they want."

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"The bottom line of the bill is simple: Nobody should be spying on another unless they have the legal authority to do so," he said. "Just because the government has the technology to look into somebody's yard doesn't give it the constitutional right to do so."

Goodlatte echoed that sentiment Wednesday. He said that drone technology can be useful for law enforcement and the military overseas. Also today, the committee planned to discuss when the government could use drones to target American citizens overseas.

"I'm not saying drone technology isn't a good use of our resources … but under what circumstances our government, particularly the president of the United States, chooses to use that technology against U.S. citizens is very worth of examination," Goodlatte said.

"We also intend to look at other uses of drones, including the use of drones domestically by the government and others to surveil citizens."

[READ: Internal Memo: National Guard Can Share 'Incidental' Drone Footage]

At least 25 states have considered legislation that would ban or severely limit drone use by local and state governments. One state, Virginia, has already passed a law that bans drone use by state organizations until at least 2015. Though several drone-related bills have been introduced in Congress, no laws have passed yet.

"Representatives Poe and Lofgren have introduced a bill in this Congress to address domestic drone surveillance and many others have expressed interest in pursuing this important matter," says Amie Stepanovich, associate litigation counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "Currently, there are no privacy laws that would regulate government or commercial drone surveillance in the United States."

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