OTHER OPINION: Police drones and privacy concerns

By The Denver Post

The suggestion by a Denver City Council member that the city consider trading its police helicopter for unmanned drones is intriguing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the potential cost savings.
However, as law enforcement agencies around the state begin to think about how this technology can help in their work, questions arise about privacy.
We think state lawmakers would be wise to consider limits on how drones can be used in surveillance before the practice becomes widespread.
The issue arose Thursday at a city meeting when Councilman Chris Nevitt said the city ought to look at a drone program to replace its expensive helicopter. On the table was a $377,400 maintenance bill for the chopper.
Police spokesman Lt. Matt Murray said the department has no intention of taking that route at the moment.
Murray said that although Denver police officials have considered drone technology, they want to wait until privacy concerns have been hashed out before going down that path.
It’s a prudent position, but one that may not be adopted by other police agencies.
Already, the Mesa County sheriff’s office uses unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in search and rescue missions.
To be clear, the drones we’re talking about are not the military version that shoot Hellfire missiles in pursuit of terrorists. The domestic versions largely are armed with cameras and have a number of uses.
The concerns that civil liberties advocates have voiced – and we share – is that use of unmanned drones has the potential to run afoul of Fourth Amendment guarantees of privacy.
The issue is coming at us full bore as the Federal Aviation Administration considers establishing six unmanned aircraft test sites across the country.
There ought to be clear guidelines for use and legal hurdles to clear before drones are used in ways that may undermine this nation’s traditional deference to privacy.
The Denver Post

Click video to hear audio