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March 19, 2013

Those magnificent spies in their flying machines

There has been much debate recently about targeted killings by drones in our war on terrorism and the collateral deaths of civilians. Those attacks are bad enough, but now the specter of the domestic use of drones against American citizens has surfaced.

Lawmakers primarily have been focused on “the constitutional and statutory authority for targeted killings; the scope of the battlefield and who can be targeted as a combatant; and establishing a transparent legal framework for the use of drones,’’ according to Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin. He has scheduled a hearing on those issues for next month.

It is important to address the matter of domestic attacks, but of more general concern is the problem of using drones to spy on American citizens. 

On Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont will have a hearing in Washington titled “The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations.” It will focus on the growing concerns about civil rights surrounding the domestic use of drones. 

“Drones have the potential to assist law enforcement and other first responders, but they could also pose a significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of Americans. This is another example of a fast-changing policy area on which we need to focus to make sure that modern technology is not used to erode Americans’ right to privacy,” Leahy said.

The issue is that drones, or unmanned aircraft, are no longer merely a tool for military attacks and spying abroad. And it’s not only the military’s possible domestic use of drones that has lawmakers and civil rights advocates worrying.

The private sector now is getting into the drone business as companies, including some formerly occupied with radio-operated model planes, acquire the technology to manufacture larger and more-advanced unmanned aircraft.

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