A bill intended to reassert individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights when it comes to aerial surveillance operations was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday.
The Protecting Individuals From Mass Aerial Surveillance Act, introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., would require federal agencies to obtain a warrant before conducting aerial surveillance operations.
Any unlawfully collected information would be inadmissible in court and the government would be prohibited from identifying individuals who show up incidentally in aerial surveillance coverage unless there is probable cause to believe those individuals have committed a crime.
As the Associated Press reported June 2, the FBI alone has flown at least 50 surveillance planes in 11 states since late April for ongoing investigations without court approval.
The bill has its limits, however. “This applies to federal agencies. To the extent that a state entity would fly a drone, this bill wouldn’t address it,” said ACLU spokesperson Neema Singh Guliani.
“It is also important to note that there is a border carve-out exemption of 25 miles. For people who live within that 25-mile border zone, like Tucson [or] San Diego, these protections wouldn’t apply.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service also have their own aerial surveillance fleets. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Marshals Service has surveillance planes equipped with fake cell phone tower devices that can pull a suspect’s cell phone data and thereby determine his or her location within 10 feet.
Those devices, called Stingrays, can also seize data from thousands of other innocent people in the process.
Government aerial surveillance became national news in March after residents of West Baltimore started tweeting about small planes looping over areas where riots and protests had occurred in response to the police killing of Freddie Gray. According to the Washington Post, the FBI provided the planes to the Baltimore Police Department to gather “aerial imagery of possible criminal activity.”
(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP