Sen. Wyden Introduces Bill Aimed At Limiting FBI, US Marshals' Flying Spy Planes
from the hacking-away-at-the-surveillance-overgrowth dept
It’s safe to say no domestic surveillance program will be escaping legislators’ attention in the post-Snowden era — at least not for the forseeable future. It’s only been a couple of weeks since news of the FBI’s secret spy plane fleet made national headlines and there’s already legislation in the works aimed at setting some… um… ground rules.
In a bill announced Wednesday, Wyden joins Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller on the Protecting Individuals From Mass Aerial Surveillance Act, which if passed would require warrants for the government to analyze and collect data gathered en masse via domestic airplane or surveillance drone.
“Technology has made it possible to conduct round-the-clock aerial surveillance. The law needs to keep up,” Wyden said in a statement. “Clear rules for when and how the federal government can watch Americans from the sky will provide critical certainty for the government, and help the unmanned aircraft industry reach its potential as an economic powerhouse in Oregon and the United States.”
It’s not just the FBI’s flying spies being targeted by this bill. It’s also looking to dial back the US Marshals Service’s use of airborne IMSI catchers, a.k.a. “dirtboxes,” as well as targeting surveillance drones, picking up where 2013’s stalled Drone Privacy Act left off.
Hopefully, the bill will force a bit more transparency about use of these surveillance techniques. A warrant requirement is a nice thought, although it’s hard to imagine what sort of warrant would cover a “search” that involves flying a plane in continuous circles over a small area of a city.
Considering the lowered expectation of privacy in public areas, the warrant requirement is going to be a tough sell. If it does stick, it will at least ensure deployments are targeted, rather than just exploratory. There’s an opportunity here to force better and more detailed reporting of deployments, as well as significantly limiting the use of flying surveillance vehicles by eliminating exploitable loopholes.
The bill also would prevent government agencies from running footage obtained by drones or planes through facial/pattern recognition software in hopes of stumbling across untargeted suspects. It also would forbid law enforcement agencies from bypassing restrictions and reporting requirements by hiring private contractors to perform their illegal surveillance for them.
Five years ago, this sort of legislation would be dead on arrival, with deferential nods to terrorism and the War on Drugs replacing any serious consideration of the public’s privacy. Thanks to the Snowden’s leaks, any bill seeking to limit domestic surveillance now has a fighting chance, with even the reluctant administration forced to make more concessions to privacy than it would under other circumstances.