Leahy Says Judiciary Committee Will Examine Domestic Drones

03/19/13 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, confers with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Senator Patrick Leahy wants Congress to examine the domestic use of drones because he says they pose a privacy risk to many Americans.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will begin a series of hearings on the issue this week.

Leahy says this is a case where modern technology is moving faster that the ability of Congress to change its laws.

He says drone production is increasing dramatically as more local and state law enforcement groups consider using them for a variety of purposes including surveillance activities.

Leahy says this is the time to step back and establish some guidelines on the use of this new technology.

"I'm very concerned about the increasing domestic use of drones by law enforcement and others, the invasion of privacy involved with that," Leahy said.

Leahy says there are definitely appropriate uses of drones, particularly in agricultural settings, but he says the illegal collection of personal information without a warrant is not one of them.

"Farmers use them," he said. "They have a short range. They use them to check crops and things like that, especially in the Midwest. I don't have any problem with that. I have a problem with something that's going around spying on Americans and that technology is growing and I think we should look into it."

Leahy says this is an issue that Congress needs to deal with in the near future.

"I think before we get too far down the road that they're snooping on honest Americans we ought to look at it," he said. "I'd rather be looking at them before they're doing it than two years from now say, 'Why didn't we look at them?'" So I'm trying to be ahead of that."

The use of drones by the military in foreign settings has also drawn a lot of attention in recent weeks.

That's an issue that Leahy says his committee will tackle next month.

"This is aside of the whole question of targeted killings on that," he said. "I'm asking the White House to provide me with their legal background for any targeted killings overseas and we will look at that."

The Vermont Department of Public Safety said earlier this winter that it has no plans to use drones without a full discussion by the Legislature.
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