US could see 30,000 drones in the sky within 20 years

It was very clear Wednesday at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on drones that senators in both parties are worried about the threat to Americans’ privacy posed by the personal, commercial and law enforcement use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Senators expressed deep concerns about the spreading use of a technology that is rapidly evolving and comes at a relatively affordable price tag.

But it was equally clear that they’ve only just begun to grasp the dimensions of the drone controversy, and are very far from being decided on whether a federal law is need to regulate the use of drones inside the United States — much less what legislative approach to use.

Last year, Congress gave the Federal Aviation Administration until 2015 to devise rules to integrate drones into the national airspace system. The agency predicted last year that 30,000 drones will be traveling the skies above America in the next 20 years.

University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo and Ben Miller, the Unmanned Aircraft Program Manager for the Mesa County Sheriff, discuss privacy concerns during a Senate hearing on drone use Wednesday.
To some degree senators at Wednesday’s hearing were still caught up in marveling at the gee-whiz, technological capabilities of UAVs.

“How small can these things get?” asked Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. A drone as small as a hummingbird is being developed, replied a witness at the hearing, Amie Stepanovich, director of the Domestic Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “The technology is increasing at an exponentially rapid rate.”

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