Drone use will only grow domestically

The Bismarck Tribune

Whether it’s tracking cellphones or tracking people with unmanned flying drones, there needs to be clear laws that protect the legitimate rights of citizens from prying (robotic) eyes. The federal government has been slow to define the ability of law enforcement agencies to use evolving technologies to investigate the activities of American citizens.

The Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department recently obtained a Federal Aviation Administration permit to operate a miniature helicopter drone in eastern North Dakota. The department also is looking at a fixed-wing drone.

The drones will carry no weapons, but will be outfitted with cameras capable of monitoring activities on the ground — traffic, hazardous spills, active crime scenes, natural disasters.

In Nelson County last summer, there was a standoff, and law enforcement officials used a drone for surveillance from the U.S. Customs Department, which typically had been used to monitor the U.S.-Canadian border. That seems to be a particularly effective use of small unmanned aircraft by a local law enforcement agency.

A drone with a camera payload could be used to search for a lost child, or scout the perimeters of a raging prairie fire.