Drones a target of U.S. House bill

Legislation specifies that the government would need a warrant to collect information in a private place using a drone.

Drone technology is advancing to the point where 30,000 unmanned aerial vehicles are expected to be in use over U.S. skies within the next two decades.

That could rub a lot of people the wrong way because of privacy concerns, so Washington is taking action. There's a new bill in the House of Representatives that aims to legislate exactly how drones can be used.

The bill ( PDF ) specifies that the government would need a warrant to collect information in a private place using a drone. As for public spots, the government would have to give prior notice about drone surveillance via a media outlet, government web site or with physical signage in the area.

The bill also spells out that drones cannot be armed by private parties and law enforcement entities, although the military can include weapons on its UAVs.

The Preserving American Privacy Act has bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Rep. Ted Poe.

"The expanded use of drones on U.S. soil raises serious Constitutional and civil liberties issues that Congress needs to address," Lofgren said in a statement to TheNextWeb .

Drone capabilities are chilling, even non-lethal ones.

A Congressional Research Service report ( PDF ) says that currently, drones can be outfitted with high-powered cameras, thermal imaging devices, license plate readers, and laser radar.

"In the near future, law enforcement organizations might seek to outfit drones with facial recognition or soft biometric recognition, which can recognize and track individuals based on attributes such as height, age, gender, and skin color," the report says.

Or how about intelligent flocks of drones?

Last fall a research team at the University of Connecticut announced it was working on fully autonomous drones capable of "thinking" and navigating the hazards of their surroundings without human intervention and in groups, sort of like herd animals.

Despite concerns, there's plenty of interest in developing the technology and lots of people want to get their hands on it.

In fact, more than 1,000 people have pre-ordered a super quiet wing-flapping robot that resembles a dragonfly. The little UAV, which starts at only $119, comes with up to 20 environmental sensors, various cameras and GPS.

Users -- the first of whom should get their units in July -- will control it with various apps that will let them do things such as take aerial photos, play games and use for security.

Tags privacylegal issues

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