The ACLU has called for rules that limit law enforcement agencies' use of drones when collecting evidence of wrongdoing, for emergencies or other uses where there's no reason to think it would invade privacy.
Police use of a device that lets officers zero in on the location of cellphones – and thereby persons of interest or suspects – is being kept under wraps by the FBI, according to a document released last month through a Freedom of Information Act request.
"If the government wins this case, the public will be stripped of its right to access all White House executive orders, directives, proclamations, memos or other correspondence provided to federal agencies – products that often have the force of law," the Project on Government Oversight wrote in an April 21 blog post.
A handful of advocacy groups called for the Supreme Court to require warrants before law enforcement can search the contents of cellphones in briefs filed this month.
Texas lawmakers have passed a bill requiring state law enforcement agencies to get a search warrant before they can request businesses to hand over a customer's electronic information. The bill closes a loophole that allows investigators to seize electronic media such as emails with only a subpoena. The bill is a state-level reflection of similar changes lawmakers want to make with national legislation, such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
Alan Butler, EPIC's appellate advocacy counsel, in an article in the American University Law Review (link at SSRN) says military cyber operations may easily meet thresholds established by the 18th century constitutional prohibition against soldiers quartering during peacetime in "any house, without the consent of the Owner" and during wartime "but in a manner to be prescribed by law."
Privacy law in the United States tends to be targeted, and as a result "we don't believe that there are actually any federal statutes that would provide limits on drone surveillance," said Aime Stepanovich, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Following passage of a 2012 reauthorization bill, the FAA has worked to streamline procedures for integrating public agency UAVs into the national airspace.
Freedom of Information Act fees and fee waivers are a persistent problem for agency FOIA offices and for requesters, according to Miriam Nisbet, director of the Office of Government Information Services at the National Archives and Records Administration. Immigration records will be another area of attention for OGIS going forward, said Nisbet.
New guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center are in place that should safeguard civil liberties and protect privacy, according to an information paper (.pdf) released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The paper further asserts that the National Counterterrorism Center is subject to the oversight of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and must keep the intelligence committees in Congress fully and currently informed of its activities.
UAVs equipped with sensors such as facial recognition technology create the possibility of continuous and ongoing biometric surveillance, said Laura Donohue, an associate professor of law at Georgetown Law School. Biometrics until now have mostly been collected on an individual basis, such as through fingerprinting after arrest or through biometric identification for access control. A UAV with biometric sensors "changes how we think about public space," she said.