A Charlottesville public-interest law firm has sent a letter to both the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors warning of the dangers to civil liberties posed by the use of drones and asking both bodies to pass resolutions demanding protections against drones' misuse.
In a letter dated January 21 and addressed to Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja, Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead points out that recent legislation signed by President Barack Obama “has opened the door for unmanned aerial vehicles” (drones) to fly in the skies of the United States.
In the letter, Whitehead cites predictions that by 2020, there may be as many as 30,000 drones operating in U.S air space. He calls these drones “robotic threats to privacy and security.”
Threats to civil liberties
Whitehead expresses his hope that Charlottesville's City Council will “not only give serious consideration to the dangers posed to our freedoms by these aerial devices but ensure that the people of Charlottesville are protected against any resulting incursions on their rights” that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
To that end, Whitehead sent a copy of a Rutherford Institute-drafted model resolution for consideration by the city council and the county supervisors.
The resolution is intended to “encourage the General Assembly of Virginia to provide for limitations on the use of evidence obtained from the domestic use of drones and to preclude the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel devices” (that is, weapons).
It notes that “the federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia have thus far failed to provide reasonable legal restrictions on the use of drones within the United States” and that police departments have started to use drone technology without “any guidance or guidelines from lawmakers.”
In plain language, the resolution calls on Congress and the Virginia General Assembly “to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court, and precluding the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel devices, meaning any projectile, chemical, electrical, directed-energy (visible or invisible), or other device designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being.”
'Get in an uproar'
In an interview on Coy Barefoot's afternoon drive-time radio program on WINA-AM Monday, Whitehead suggested that “if enough cities across the country were to get in an uproar about” the civil liberties threats of drones, “we might be able to limit them some.”
He pointed out that already-existing technology allows drones to “be able to see through the walls of your home.” They are powerful enough, he said, “they are able to watch you in your homes, connect up with all the [electronic] devices in your homes.”
The drones, he said, “are amazing devices,” which include “hummingbird drones that come up to your window and watch you in your home.” Other, non-flying drones look like dogs and can walk "up to your front door.”
Citing Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitehead warned that “it's time to stand up and fight back,” and said that, in the absence of federal limits on drone use, local and state governments must act.
Experts, he said, are “freaking.” If, he said, there is a device “that flies over your home that can see you in your kitchen or upstairs using the bathroom or having sex with your wife, we've entered a whole new era” of threats to privacy and personal liberty.
Drones, he said, are “beyond Orwell. It's scary stuff.”