Aerial drones have been garnering a lot of attention by privacy advocates lately, and Public Intelligence has compiled a list of known US military bases that employ these drones. The map contains the present and future locations of military bases equipped to deploy aerial drones, but most are so far removed from civilian populations that they are likely just training centers for overseas operations. This map comes just one day after we reported that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked citizens to contribute their local police department's aerial drone practices to its database.
It's difficult to separate the stigma of re-purposed war machines from that fact that they are far safer and cheaper to deploy than traditional planes. These benefits enable use-cases that simply aren't possible with manned planes, like round the clock environmental monitoring and, curiously enough, preventing cow theft. However, the issues that the EFF and Public Intelligence concern themselves with aren't nearly as benign — they center around unconstitutional surveillance of US citizens.
It is currently illegal for government agencies, including the police, to wiretap an individual without a warrant, but that does't stop them from taking pictures and video from high up in the sky — after all, that airspace is under the jurisdiction of the FAA. However, just because drone-operating-agencies can't legally wiretap an individual doesn't mean that it doesn't happen — the drones may collect this data autonomously, but without a warrant this information can't be used in court.
What's clear is that Congress is going to have to lay out clear rules about how both private companies and government agencies use aerial drones. There simply isn't a precedent for lawmakers to go by when regulating drones in domestic airspace. This map provided by Public Intelligence is quite illuminating, and while it doesn't prove that the government is spying on US citizens, it does prove that the drones are already here.