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Law struggling to catch up with use of drone technology, says privacy expert

Charlottesville, Va. recently became the first town in the U.S. to pass an anti-drone resolution, calling for a restriction on the use of the unmanned surveillance vehicles.

“For drones, I think the problem is that they do have some legitimate law enforcement purposes, but they raise massive problems of invasion of privacy and government surveillance that we need to think through before we deploy drones in vast numbers in our skies,” says Neil Richards, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

Richards

"The question of whether drones are legal in the U.S. would turn on whether their use to spy would be 'unreasonable' under the Fourth Amendment [which protects the public from unlawful searches]. The short answer to this question is that we don't know yet, because drones are so new that there really haven't been any cases on the question. But the Supreme Court has been hinting in other tech surveillance cases that it intends to give new surveillance technologies a close look, and it isn't willing to just rubber-stamp novel and potentially dangerous incursions on our civil liberties that such technologies pose."

Richards discusses the legal issues around domestic drone use in the current issue of WIRED UK: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-02/07/charlottesville-bans-drones.

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Neil M. Richards
Professor of Law
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nmrichards@wulaw.wustl.edu