As a follow up to posts about the Preserving Freedom From Unwarranted Surveillance Act I wrote earlier this week (here and here), I wanted to point out some things about the legislation now that the full text of the bill has been made available online.
The legislation bans use of drones to collect evidence of criminal conduct or regulatory violations. That’s the big part of what people concerned about civil liberties fear could happen, so this is great to see. It does, however, seem that there is some validity to the concerns I expressed earlier this week.
Border Patrol. The language in the bill says that drones can be used to “prevent or deter” illegal entry into the country. How will drones prevent entry? The answer, if they are unarmed drones, is that they won’t. Their presence may deter illegal entry, but I fear that the way drones will prevent entry is by arming them. We should all have serious problems with that idea.
War on Drugs. Despite the fact that the War on Drugs has been an epic failure in an attempt at government intervention for the good of people, this bill upholds the failed effort by including controlled substances in the excuses for using drones without warrant.
Exigent Circumstances. We need to protect law enforcement officers, and if drones can help save lives, we certainly want to use them. However, under this bill, if a suspect is believed to be in possession of a firearm, law enforcement could claim exigent circumstances and use a drone without warrant. Possession of a gun does not imply an intent to shoot people.
High Risk of Terrorism. This exception requires the approval of the Secretary of Homeland Security to use a drone without warrant (as opposed to giving authority to lower levels of authority), but if the threat of terrorism is really high, the previous exigent circumstances paragraph would apply (saving lives); in any other domestic case, they should be required to obtain a warrant, as specified in the Fourth Amendment.
What really convinces me that this is just a tactic for rallying the Republican base is that terrorism exception. It really is not necessary, since legitimate terrorist threats would also qualify as exigent circumstances. But the verbiage is in there so that Republicans can bring the War on Terror back within our borders and pretend to protect Fourth Amendment rights while blazing a path for law enforcement to completely bypass the Fourth Amendment.