By Andrew Ramonas and Todd Ruger
Security preparations for the Republican National Convention next week, including the use of a drone to patrol the skies up to 4,000 feet above Tampa, Fla., are highlighting several controversial legal issues.
The final details of the carefully choreographed convention were made public late this week. Outside the convention hall, the ACLU teamed up with Tampa police to publish a legal guide for protestors at the event, the Tampa Bay Times reports. It includes a statement about filming police, a practice that has spawned lawsuits across the country because officers have arrested photographers even when no laws were broken.
"If detained, ask what crime you are suspected of. You may remind officers that taking photos is a right and does not constitute suspicion," the guide states.
Tampa spent a $50 million federal grant on security upgrades ranging from new surveillance cameras to an armored truck, riot gear and a temporary influx of 3,500 additional law enforcement officers, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Friday.
That includes an unmanned helicopter that will patrol the skies over the national convention, the Tampa Tribune reported Friday. The use of drones by domestic law enforcement has become a major legal concern for the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Many licenses for drones limit the ability to fly over populated areas, so it seems like a big change in policy, said Jennifer Lynch, an EFF staff attorney.
"If something were to happen, if it were to lose contact, or lose power, those can be pretty dangerous if they fall on top of you," Lynch said. And then there are the Fourth Amendment privacy concerns that courts are beginning to share with surveillance technology like this, she said.
There is no information about what kind of data or images the drone is collecting on people, including protestors, or where that information and images are being stored and for how long. Some drones have ability to track people using GPS, some have ability to intercept communications, Lynch said.
There is no information about what agency is operating the drone, or under which Federal Aviation Administration license. Requests for comments or information to the FAA and the Republican National Convention were not immediately returned Friday.
Check back now through Sept. 7 for more Legal Times and National Law Journal coverage of the Republican National Convention in Tampa and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.