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Testimony for the Drone Privacy Act

Testimony presented at State House Hearing on the Drone Privacy Act, March 5, 2014

Susan McLucasI am Susan McLucas and I’m a member of the Eastern Massachusetts Anti-Drones Network.  We support the Drone Privacy Act.

Our government has a tendency to want to collect a lot of information about us these days.  The NSA has been found to be spying on our phone calls and e-mails.  Now it comes out that, along with its British counterpart the GCHQ, the NSA has been taking snap shots of millions of people doing on-line chats through Yahoo. There are surveillance cameras all over the city and subway.  Drone technology will likely make surveillance all the more pervasive, if we let it, which is why it is so important to put constraints in place like the Drone Privacy Act.

Before I go too far, I would like to introduce this photo of something that was flying over one of our Park Street Station demonstrations on September 7 of last year.  We don’t know what it was, but it looks like a dragonfly drone.  It stayed there for about an hour and, when a lot of us started looking at it, it moved away.  We don’t know who was operating it or why, but we are aware of frequent surveillance of our peace demonstrations.  The letter we wrote the Boston Police Commissioner in January, 2013 asking for a meeting about this was never answered.

Drones come in lots of forms.  Some are so small they look like insects.  Soon there will be aerostats, surveillance blimps that don’t have to land nearly as often as drones.  Two of these blimps will fly over Washington, DC as of this summer, according to the Washington Post.

The Drone Privacy Act would limit surveillance to people who are suspected of a crime, with a warrant issued by a judge.  It requires that any information collected about people not suspected of a crime be destroyed within a day.  It also prohibits surveillance of people exercising their right to free speech, like peace or other protesters. It also allows for drones to be used in emergencies.

There are 8 states that already have put laws into place regulating drones and many more are working on them.  The states with laws in place already are: Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

One concern not addressed by the bill is that accidents happen with drones, much more often than with commercial airplanes.  US Customs grounded its fleet of drones after a $12 million crash into the ocean.  The FAA is supposed to issue rules to allow drones to fly in American airspace by next year, though it’s not clear that they will get them done on time.

Drones are already starting to be used in the US.  Mesa County, CO won FAA permission to use dragonfly drones in 2011.  The Texas Department of Public Safety has been using a bird-sized drone for surveillance.  Houston TX police did secret tests of a drone in 2007 but when it was discovered the program collapsed.  Many other cities and states have applied for FAA permission to use drones.

One concern about drones and high technology in general is that so much attention goes into the technology that common sense gets lost.  The Tsarnaev brothers fell through the cracks while the Boston Police and other authorities concentrated on Occupy protesters.

I urge you to pass the Drone Privacy Act and thereby strengthen privacy guarantees for all citizens of Massachusetts. 

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