The growing presence of domestic drones has some people—including a few very powerful figures—understandably concerned.
“There are drones flying over the air randomly that are recording everything that’s happening on what we consider our private property,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told faculty members and students at Oklahoma City University’s law school on Thursday. “That type of technology has to stimulate us to think about what is it that we cherish in privacy and how far we want to protect it and from whom.”
But some American politicians are emphasizing the potential law-enforcement benefit that drones may offer—not just in terms of domestic surveillance, but in terms of violently ending hostage crises and stopping school shootings.
On Thursday, a Wyoming legislative committee voted to support a bill that would require police to get warrants if they wanted to use drones to collect evidence in criminal cases. The Wyoming ACLU and Wyoming Liberty Group both back the bill. (You can read the Wyoming Liberty Group’s recent report on limiting law-enforcement use of unmanned aerial vehicles here (PDF).)
However, the committee shot down an amendment that would have banned fitting the drones with weapons. (These armed drones would be smaller and less intimidating than, say, the ones the U.S. government has been using to vaporize terror suspects overseas.)
Wyoming senator Bruce Burns—a pro-firing-squad, pro-medical-marijuana Republican—argued that armed drones could help police officers deal with tricky hostage situations. “I’m also picturing specific circumstances where let’s say you have a hostage situation and a drone is the only place where you could get a clear shot at the hostage taker and I think that would be a very beneficial use of the drone itself,” Burns said.
His state senate colleague Larry Hicks said that domestic killer drones could come in handy when cops need to stop a school shooting. Therefore, he didn’t want to risk imposing a blanket prohibition that would hobble noble police drone usage.
Sens. Burns and Hicks did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment. The full legislature will consider the drone bill in January.
The idea of tricking-out police drones with scary weapons isn’t a brand new concept. In Conroe, Texas, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office flirted with the thought of fitting helicopter drones with shotguns that shoot rubber bullets, for instance.
On a related note, here’s a video of a homemade weaponized drone mowing down a bunch of stuff: