Domestic Aerial Surveillance and Homeland Security: Should Americans Fear the Eye in the Sky?   [open pdf - 623KB]

From the thesis abstract: "Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, also known as drones) are being increasingly more utilized in domestic law enforcement operations, enabling officers to maximize situational awareness from overhead while minimizing their exposure to danger. As the domestic airspace is scheduled to be fully drone integrated by 2015, growing concerns over national security and privacy issues have highlighted the capabilities and potential implications of using UAS on a national scale. This thesis examines the potential effectiveness of utilizing domestic aerial surveillance to increase homeland security while addressing how, and to what level, these programs should be federally overseen and regulated without infringing on Americans' civil liberties. This thesis argues that large-scale UAS operations by federal agencies are cost-inefficient and lack tangible results, while state and local agency operations, which employ smaller systems in more specific situations, are less expensive and more effective. Current U.S. law allows for aerial surveillance by law enforcement, but updating privacy legislation to account for modern technology should be considered. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to accelerate its working relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its UAS approval process to establish and maintain privacy safeguards to ensure the highest level of national security while minimizing civil liberty infringement."

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