SARASOTA – Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster on the U.S. Senate floor decried the use of drone aircraft on American soil. Many people do not know they're used in the U.S., but in February 2012, Congress passed a law that opens the door not only for local police agencies to use them, but even private companies.
They could prove great to be great tools, but also, critics say, a great danger.
You just can't let people loose with drones,” says Pete Tannen, President of the ACLU Sarasota-Manatee-Desoto Chapter. “If anybody can buy a drone, like anybody can buy a Taser, we've got serious problems of controlling our privacy.”
The FAA Reauthorization Act directs the FAA to develop regulations for commercial drones by 2015. It lets public agencies fly them.
People we asked about this on Main Street in Sarasota Thursday worried about how drones might be used, but some saw their benefits, too. “I don't like the idea of big brother, looking after us,” says Aliki Gable. “But if it was an issue of security or catching somebody who did something wrong after the fact, I could see the benefits.”
“They can't just unilaterally use them whenever they want to,” says Dave Pfautz. “There has to be reason, justification, rules and regulations.” Is he confident there would be those rules and regulations? “No.”
Will the rules governing drones include how people or police can use them? Are they only for surveillance? Or, as used to target terrorists in places like Pakistan, as weapons?
“Do people envision people putting machine guns or tear gas on drones when they're used by law enforcement?” Tannen asks.
The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office says it has no plans to use drones, and has not considered what their benefits might be.
With other surveillance tools already common – security cameras in stores, red light cameras on streets, satellites in skies – is the battle for privacy already lost? To a large extent, yes, Tannen believes. "But let's try to keep the privacy we have left,” he says.