Joanne Francisco, one of several people who came to a state Capitol rally Saturday with a face mask, said the encroachment of government on her 4th Amendment right to privacy, such as the possible use of drones to spy on individuals, is a growing concern.
“Government is getting too intrusive, nosy,” said Francisco, of Tulsa. “How do we know when our rights have been infringed upon? We can see a peeping Tom outside our window, but we can't necessarily see when we're being spied on by a drone.”
Amie Stepanovich, legal counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center and an expert in government surveillance and the use of drones, told a crowd of nearly 200 that it's estimated about 30,000 drones will be flying in U.S. skies by 2020 for a variety of purposes.
“Privacy is a nonpartisan issue,” said Stepanovich, whose Washington, D.C.-based group is a public research center. “It's for all of us.”
There is a high risk of abuse in the use of drones, she said. The federal government is using them now to patrol America's borders. Drones, which are unmanned aircraft, come in all sizes, from as small as a hummingbird to as large as a commercial airliner.
Amanda Teegarden, executive director of Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise, urged those attending the rally to call lawmakers to support a bill that would regulate the use of drones in the state. House Bill 1556, by Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, would, among other regulations, require law officers, absent an emergency, to obtain a warrant first before using drones for surveillance purposes and prohibits the state from outfitting drones with weapons.
The House of Representatives Energy and Aerospace Committee is scheduled to hear HB 1556 at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. This is the last week for most bills originating in the House to be heard by House committees.
“I think there's a lot of popular support behind this legislation,” said Wesselhoft, who attended the rally.
He said his measure is not intended to harm efforts under way in Oklahoma to test small, unmanned aircraft systems, commonly called drones. Oklahoma was the first state chosen by the U.S. Homeland Security Department as a testing site for these systems. It is vying to be one of six testing sites for the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is expected to approve regulations for the drones by 2015.
Companies are testing drones in restricted air space over Fort Sill near Elgin.
The robotic aircraft being tested are to be used for purposes such as search-and-rescue efforts or responding to natural disasters such as tornadoes and fires.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said he is concerned drones will become commonplace in American life.
Authorities in Ogden, Utah, are using the aircraft as “floating surveillance blimps” and police in Houston are using them to issue traffic tickets.
“We have to anticipate there will be increasing pressure on all levels of our government to incorporate drones into … law enforcement activities,” he said. “Even when drones are used for search and rescue or fighting wildfires … they'll likely to be embraced by law enforcement for far more controversial purposes.”