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Senator Leahy expresses concern about 'growing use of drones by federal and local authorities'

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In a speech outlining the agenda of the Senate judiciary committee in the 113th Congress, Senator and committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) specifically called out concerns over the government's use of drones. In the speech, given today at the Georgetown University Law Center, chairman Leahy said that "this Congress we will examine the constitutional and legal issues implicated by the administration's use of drones abroad, but my concerns go beyond just the use of lethal force against suspected terrorists." In addition to examining the secretive overseas drone program, Leahy promises to look inward; he said that "I am concerned about the growing use of drones by federal and local authorities to spy on Americans here at home." With Leahy setting the judiciary committee's agenda, you can expect to see hearings this year on the use of drones at home and abroad.

"This fast-emerging technology is cheap and could pose a significant threat to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of Americans."

The Senate judiciary committee will also tackle important electronic privacy law this year, with passage of a bill that will update a 1986 law called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Leahy called out the ECPA in particular, and also paid lip-service to "cybersecurity laws," but did not specify anything further in that area. (It would not be surprising if the failed Cybersecurity Act of 2012 is taken up in some form this year, as Congress may want to preempt the White House's own stop-gap cybersecurity measures.)

It's not clear if the Senate will take up any limiting legislation on the use of drones at home or abroad this year, but hearings should at least shed light on the extent and nature of their use — Leahy said that "it is another example of a fast-changing policy area on which we need to focus to make sure that modern technology is not used to erode Americans' right to privacy."