ACLU of Ohio Policy Coordinator Melissa Bilancini recently went under cover at the 2nd Annual Ohio UAS Conference. This is an account of what she learned…

I leave this conference with my head full of information and concerns about the future of Ohio’s skies.

As a tech geek, I understand the drive to create new technological advances. Admittedly, there is some really cool stuff being developed – such as sensors that can be used on drones to detect the amount of moisture in the soil or the chemical signature of paint (so that a humvee parked under trees can still be spotted).

There are also some frightening things in the works – particularly the advances in autonomous flight. The Global Hawk, for example, is a surveillance drone that is designed to take off, fly a mission, and land without pilot’s control. Attack drones, like the Predator and Reaper, are anticipated to fly without human control after 2020.

As a civil libertarian, I am concerned about the constitutional implications of drones:

  • The government’s targeted killing of U.S. citizens and non-citizens – which is based on vague legal standards, a closed executive process, and evidence never presented to the courts – is an egregious violation of the Constitution. (And killing people overseas through what is essentially a “first person shooter” video game is, from a humanitarian perspective, horrifying.)
  • The domestic implications of drone use by law enforcement for unwarranted surveillance are just as disconcerting. As technology becomes better and cheaper, law enforcement will have the ability to quite literally look into our private lives – learning where we go, who we meet with, for how long and how often. This poses a threat to our rights to free speech, association, and individual privacy.

Now that I have a better understanding of the capabilities and potential uses for drones, I am eager to get back to the office and begin work to ensure Ohioans’ rights are protected.