Miami-Dade was the first police department to be granted an FAA permit for drone flying in 2011. Since then another 81 such permits have been granted. Yet, the Miami-Dade Police Department has yet to use their drones. Now, the future of their unmanned eyes-in-the-sky is looking even bleaker as lawmakers slowly work through limiting their applications.
Legislation known as the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act recently passed a House committee. And though it will have to pass several committees, lawmakers, and the governor before being instated as law, its future looks bright.
Several states are rushing to pass similar laws that would limit the uses of these drones. The Florida legislation would require police to have a warrant or to prove “imminent danger” before using them.
“Our ultimate goal is obviously to expand the realm with the FAA, building up the credibility of how we use [the drones]” said the Miami-Dade department in their recent bid to renew their FAA permit. “We’re showing them that we can operate this responsibly.”
The presence of domestic drones has grown considerably in the past few years, in part because law enforcement was getting money to pay for them from the federal government and the FAA was pushing permits like candy. The presence of these unmanned and camera-equipped devices in the sky has many civil liberty proponents and citizens in general a little scared.
These drones don’t carry weapons, yet. They are equipped with cameras. Supporters of the technology say they can be used in a variety of ways—for public safety, in the event of natural disasters, and in crime investigations.
“What we’re trying to do is make it very clear to our police chiefs and to our sheriffs…don’t game the system,” said Rep Ritch Workman (R-Melboune). “Do not tell me you’re putting a drone up for a forest fire but you’re really going to fly it over a neighborhood where you think there might be drug activity going on.”
The drone issue is just one in a long list of signs that American police forces are morphing into a domestic military force. From the armored vehicles to the shields and uniforms, we are seeing police officers use military tools to enforce criminal laws, and there are many problems with this. Drones are just one.