CU Boulder: Drones on the Homefront, Is Privacy At Risk?


On Thursday October 11th at 12pm I will be making a presentation based on my paper Drones and Privacy Governance.  The event will be open to the public and refreshments will be served.  

Here is the abstract of my paper: 

 Unmanned systems (drones) and other technological innovations raise serious questions about modern conceptions of privacy. This paper examines the constitutional doctrine related to aerial surveillance and technology, and finds that current doctrine is unlikely to prevent the use of unmanned systems. The paper next addresses calls to create a statutory requirement that will subject the use of unmanned systems to the warrant requirement. These calls are rejected because they fail to protect privacy, while unnecessarily hampering legitimate law enforcement efforts. To best protect privacy, the paper suggests various mechanisms of democratically centered privacy governance, and a regulatory regime to govern the use of unmanned systems. The paper’s appendix includes a model bill appropriate for adoption by cities, states, and the federal government. The bill outlines the various privacy governance measures discussed in the body of the paper. 

Drones on the Homefront: Privacy at Risk?

Does the domestic use of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) by law enforcement threaten privacy?  I’ll be discussing that topic at 1pm on Thursday September 13, 2012 at the University of San Diego, School of Law.

From the flier:


– The Federal Aviation Administration has predicted that within 20 years, 30,000 commercial and government drones could be flying in U.S. skies.

– Some drones called “nano drones” can be as small as an insect.

– Drones can be equipped with surveillance technologies to identify and track people.

– There are multiple bills currently being proposed in the House to limit the use of drones.

– The Federalist Society will be offering FREE FOOD at this one-of-a-kind, timely discussion.

Guadalupe Hall, Rm. 117 at 1 pm Professor Gregory McNeal, Drones on the Homefront: Privacy at Risk?  My remarks are based in part on my work-in-progress, Drones and Privacy Governance.

Drones on the Homefront: Privacy At Risk?

On Tuesday, August 28th at 12 noon I will be presenting at The University of Denver, Sturm College of Law and on Wednesday, August 29th at 9am I will be making the same presentation at The University of Wyoming, College of Law.

The panel is entitled Drones on the Homefront: Privacy at Risk?

My remarks are based in part on my work-in-progress, Drones and Privacy Governance.

Drones on the Homefront: Privacy At Risk?

On Tuesday, August 28th at 12 noon I will be presenting at The University of Denver, Sturm College of Law and on Wednesday, August 29th at 9am I will be making the same presentation at The University of Wyoming, College of Law.

The panel is entitled Drones on the Homefront: Privacy at Risk?

My remarks are based in part on my work-in-progress, Drones and Privacy Governance.

Revised FBI Guidelines Will Aid Terrorism Fight

A very helpful post analyzing the pending revisions to the FBI’s guidelines for domestic investigations (DIOG) appears at The Investigative Project’s website. From the IPT:


Pending revisions to an FBI operations guide could help agents more quickly and aptly perform investigations, including counterterrorism-related inquires, according to former FBI officials familiar with older and current guidelines. Agents will soon be able to evaluate informant candidates by using those methods, which are currently unapproved. The changes could help speed up the vetting process for valuable human intelligence, said Bob Blitzer, former Chief of the FBI’s Domestic Counterterrorism Section, in an interview with the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Information obtained from informants must always be verified against other types of intelligence. The new policies will not change that fact, but they will help to ensure the integrity of the informant. “The more tools [the FBI] has to verify the honesty of sources, the better off we all are,” said Blitzer. That means the raw intelligence received from the informant could be seen as more reliable from the start. “Vetting [informants’] bona fides is critical so that agents are not fooled into taking actions that pull them away from productive endeavors,” he added.

The whole story is available here.

Keeping an Eye on Government Surveillance

An interesting post via Medill National Security Zone entitled Keeping an Eye on Government Surveillance.  Here is an excerpt:

Nationally, fusion centers have taken on a reputation as innovative new tools in the ongoing battle against terror and violence, and are also seen as hotbeds for potential civil rights violations.

Adam Schwartz, of the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the organization is in the midst of “ongoing investigations” of the state’s two fusion centers, the State Terrorism and Intelligence Center in Springfield and the Crime Prevention Information Center in Chicago.

“We have not become aware of evidence in Illinois that either of these fusion centers has crossed a line,” he said.

He said the Illinois ACLU is primarily concerned that fusion centers, in and out of the state, might become vehicles for political spying.

Fusion centers, which collect information from all levels of law enforcement, can be particularly problematic because they amass so much information about individuals.

“Some of that intelligence is strong and some is weak,” Schwartz said, adding that there isn’t a clear vetting process to make sure what is and what is not useful or legitimate.

Further, there is both contemporary and historical precedent of the government using law enforcement techniques to gather information on individuals. The Red Squad operated in Chicago through much of the last century, collecting data on perceived dissidents; in Maryland, police conducted surveillance on peaceful activists in 2008.

Of course the concerns for abuse must be balanced against the intelligence value gained from aggregating this information.  Historical evidence of abuses from decades ago should not be used to suggest that abuses are occurring today.  This is especially the case in light of the heavy Congressional scrutiny in place, and the substantial internal bureaucratic checks such as Inspectors General and Privacy Officers.

Policy Paralysis and Homeland Security: A Review of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism by Stewart Baker

I recently reviewed Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism, by Stewart Baker former Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Policy.  The review appears in Engage, Volume 11, Issue 3, December 2010. I’ve pasted the text of the review below.

Policy Paralysis and Homeland Security:  A Review of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism

The Department of Homeland Security is paralyzed by civil-libertarian privacy advocates, business interests, and bureaucratic turf battles. The result of this paralysis is a bias toward the status quo that is preventing the United States from protecting the homeland. According to Stewart Baker, in his must read book Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism (Hoover, 2010), this policy dynamic, combined with exponential advances in technology are key threats to U.S. national security.

As this review was going to print, the news was filled with the story of a video that went viral; in the video a passenger was subjected to an intrusive TSA pat down after he refused to pass through a full-body scanner. Privacy groups seized on the controversy, as the ACLU declared “Homeland Security wants to see you naked” and that “the jury is still out on the effectiveness of these machines or whether they justify the invasion of privacy involved.”1 One cannot fault the ACLU for questioning whether these systems are effective—in fact the GAO raised similar questions, inquiring as to whether the full-body scanners would have prevented the Christmas Day bombing attempt.2 What one can fault them for, though, is what Baker describes as advocating for “suffocating controls” on the information the U.S. gathers about suspected terrorists and how it is used (p.27). Consider this telling example recounted by Baker:

I started to believe that some of the privacy groups just objected in principle to any use of technology that might help catch criminals or terrorists. The example I remember best was when the police at Logan Airport got handheld computers. The computers were connected to public databases so they could check addresses and other information when they stopped someone. It was pretty much what any businessman could do already with a Blackberry or iPhone. Th e American Civil Liberties Union went nuts. The executive director of the Massachusetts chapter called the handhelds “mass scrutiny of the lives and activities of innocent people,” and “a violation of the core democratic principles that the government should not be permitted to violate a person’s privacy, unless it has a reason to believe that he or she is involved in wrongdoing.”  (p.27)

These were computers tied to public databases that any citizen could search, and still privacy groups fought tooth and nail to prevent their use. Stories and anecdotes like this one appear throughout Skating on Stilts as Baker recounts his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security as Assistant Secretary for Policy. Such stories reveal just how entrenched interest group politics are, and illustrate how resistance to change in the name of privacy has unintended consequences like the pat downs we are now witnessing at the airport. Stewart’s personal quips and observations also liven up the policy discussion, which is accessible even for the non-national security law and policy specialist. For example, when recounting the handheld computer flap above, Stewart writes, “If the ACLU considered that a civil liberties disaster . . . we’d better not tell them that we also have access to the White Pages” (p.28).

Click “Read the full entry” below to continue reading.