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Editorial: Domestic drone spying newest privacy concern

Big Brother is not only sifting through our phone and Internet records. He might be watching us from above.

Last week, FBI head Robert Mueller admitted the bureau has used unmanned aerial drones for surveillance here at home, but only in “a very, very minimal way and very seldom.” Regardless, it is disconcerting.

Especially after recent revelations of the U.S. Justice Department’s seizure of journalists’ phone records, the IRS singling out certain conservative groups and individuals for extra investigation and the National Security Administration’s secret mining of the phone and Internet records of millions of Americans.

In the years since 9/11, Americans have become more accepting of expanded intrusions into their privacy and/or the stretching of their constitutional rights, but they expect such actions to be done rarely and with warrants and protections against abuse.

Maybe too accepting as it turns out. The hit television show, “Person of Interest,” which depicts a secret government “machine” tracking people via ubiquitous security cameras, might not be too far from reality.

Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that law enforcement is deploying the drones only for limited use and that guidelines are being drawn up. But shouldn’t the guidelines have been in place before the drones were sent out on their secret spying missions?

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Several states have passed or are considering legislation to regulate domestic use of drones, according to the ACLU. A bill introduced in New Mexico this year by state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino died in committee.

While drones’ use now may be rarely targeted to specific properties, or perhaps suspected individuals, the FFA reports that upwards of 30,000 may be buzzing around the U.S. in a couple of decades.

Given the government’s apparent appetite for spying on its own citizens, it’s time for clear and strong regulations to protect their rights and privacy.

Meanwhile, smile, you might be on the government’s version of “Candid Camera.”

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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