DOJ lays down some privacy rules for feds flying drones

Drone or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) used for photography / filming flying by canal de Caronte, Martigues, France

The Justice Department promises to keep a closer eye on how its agencies are using drones from now on -- after all, they can be useful in nabbing suspects, but they can also be used as a tool to abuse power. In its new five-page policy guidance, the department has listed when its agencies can and can't use drones, with a focus on people's right to privacy. For instance, they can't be deployed to monitor activities protected by the First Amendment, such as peaceful protests. Authorities will also have to secure warrants to use the machines in places where the subject of investigation has "reasonable expectation of privacy." Obviously, the drones can only be used for authorized investigations and never for engaging in discriminatory acts.

In order to make sure the whole department follows these policies, the DOJ plans to train all its drone operators, subject its agencies to annual reviews by the deputy attorney general, and require them to keep logs of every drone flight. The department will then publish a flight summary from those logs on its website. At the moment, only the FBI has an operational drone program (reportedly with 17 machines and two pilots) within the DOJ, though the ATF has a suspended one it might relaunch in the future. Now that the department's agencies finally have a concrete idea of what they can use drones for, they can get ones fit for the job instead of wasting so much money (again) on shoddy pieces of equipment.

[Image credit: Alamy]