Should America Be Worried About Police Drones?

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In June 2014, fans gathered outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles to celebrate the L.A. Kings’ win against the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final. Spirits were high and cheers as deafening, as you’d expect with high-spirited hockey fans basking in victory. A small white drone flew over the crowd, hovering high above — and then, the air was filled with more than just cheers. Shoes, shirts, cans, and cups were being thrown at the small aircraft until eventually, it was knocked into the crowd, which cheered in celebration.

There are times when technology develops in such bursts of implication and application that it catches up with our favorite science fiction books. Drone technology as it’s changed over the course of the last decade is one such case, especially as it applies to law enforcement. There are a number of words that describe practical and conceptual drone uses in today’s society: groundbreaking, amazing, and terrifying are just a few.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as they are often referred to, have been igniting and complicating legal questions about privacy and law enforcement boundaries for years now. Concerns stem from privacy considerations, in part an extension of anxieties more generally brought on by Edward Snowden’s disclosures, and in part a response to new and changing technology that brings along an accompanying set of problems. The need to regulate and limit police and federal power, and the need to make safety considerations for equipment use have become hot topics surrounding UAV technology.