Around the Nation
11:42 am
Tue March 5, 2013

Drones Come Home, Privacy Concerns Fly High

Originally published on Wed March 6, 2013 6:45 am

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Ari Shapiro in Washington, filling in for Neal Conan. It's a bird! It's a plane! Nope, it's an unmanned aircraft, also called a drone. Some can be as small as a microwave. Others can recognize a tennis shoe from 60,000 feet above the ground. And now, law enforcement agencies across the country are getting approval from the federal government to use these mechanical eyeballs here in the U.S.

Drones are still relatively unregulated, and many critics worry about safety and privacy infringements. Just yesterday, a pilot near JFK Airport, in New York, told air traffic control that he spotted a drone aircraft in the vicinity. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the report.

This hour, we want to hear from people who work in law enforcement and technology. If that describes you, what's the conversation you're having about drones? Our number is 1-800-989-8255; our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, romcoms and why they're terrible. But first the 10,000 foot view of domestic drones. Joining me now is Ben Miller. He's the unmanned aircraft program manager for the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, and he joins us by smartphone from Grand Junction, Colorado. Welcome to the program.

BEN MILLER: Hi Ari, thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: I understand you use this technology pretty regularly. Give us an example of how you've employed these drones.

MILLER: You bet. We fly mostly two different unmanned aircraft systems: a small little helicopter, like you said your lead-in about the size of a microwave; and then a fixed-wing system called Falcon UAV, hand-launched, about nine pounds. We toss it up into the air, and it flies for about an hour.

Both of those systems are, for us, pretty much a tool in the toolbox, and they allow us to do basically two primary missions. In the first mission that we do with our Draganflyer X6, our small multi-helicopter or helicopter, is aerial photography for crime scene reconstruction.

SHAPIRO: Explain how that works.

MILLER: I can put this - yeah, you bet. I can put this small system up relatively quickly. We fly just a few - maybe 60 to 70 feet off the ground and take some photos basically, you know, in a circle around our crime scene, and then with those photos I can reconstruct a three-dimensional image. And we use it for what we call visualization.

So we give a presentation to investigators, maybe the district attorney, potentially a jury, and it really is something where they visualize what the crime scene looked like that day. And now we're even exploring the future of that.

SHAPIRO: Is this something that you used to use like a helicopter for or that you used to use people on the ground for? Before you had drones, how would you do this?

MILLER: Well, actually, that's an excellent question. I would say most of our use for unmanned aircraft is basically a low-cost alternative to manned aviation. But in this case, actually, when we're just 60 feet above the ground, if we were to use an actual helicopter for that, that type of use of unmanned aircraft, it would really destroy a crime scene.

And because we're flying things, like you say, the size of a microwave, it doesn't disrupt the crime scene, and so we can get very high-resolution images that show us a lot of things about the crime scene. We can see everything from the size of a shell casing, you know, fired out of a gun on up to, you know, larger things like vehicles.

Again, we're - you know, we're just a few feet off the ground taking some still images.

SHAPIRO: You're describing use of drones after an event, a crisis has taken place. Do you also use them in real time, whether you're looking for a fugitive or a missing person or runaway or anything like that?

MILLER: Yeah, absolutely. That's more of the mission that we use our Falcon UAV for, fixed-wing, and the benefits of a fixed-wing aircraft, we're getting a little bit more flight time, again nothing like, you know, the movies or what you commonly see in the media of the Predator drone in these days-long flights. Only an hour long, runs on batteries. It just gives us a birds-eye view from about 200 or 300 feet in the air.

And, yeah, we've used it just recently in a search and rescue mission where a lady had wandered away from her home and hadn't shown up, you know, by the time it was getting late, getting dark and getting cold. And so we put the system up, and it's a very cost-effective alternative to hiring out an aircraft.

Our agency isn't large enough to afford manned aviation. I mean, helicopters are millions of dollars, and they cost thousands of dollars an hour to operate. The systems that we use are thousands of dollars and cost tens, you know - we operate right now for about $25 an hour, so really, the benefit of unmanned aircraft and law enforcement.

SHAPIRO: In the example you gave when the woman wandered away from her home, were you able to find her using drones?

MILLER: You know, in this case - that's a common question I get, and I always call that kind of the holy grail of unmanned aircraft right now just because it's so new is to actually make that find. And as of yet, we haven't deliberately made a find, and we didn't in this case. In fact, on the first day of the mission, we turned just about a quarter-mile south of the location that we found her deceased the next day. And that was unfortunate.

But, you know, we were able to clear large areas with just the two of us, you know, myself and another person operating the system. And so, you know, the benefit is it really kind of is a force multiplier on the ground. We have lots of volunteers that come out for search and rescue missions, and it's very taxing on them, and to be able to search large areas of - in this case it was kind of some open farm country, large fields and brush and stuff like that.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's take a call. This is John(ph) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi John, go ahead.

JOHN: Hi, how are you doing?

SHAPIRO: Good, thanks.

JOHN: I'm a police officer down here in Cincinnati. One of the things that I've been asked a lot, friends and family is, is this going to get a situation like, you know, more Big Brother watching over our shoulder? And personally I think that it could be a very useful tool for a lot of the reasons that you've already discussed, but especially with budgetary constraints and so many departments downsizing and going to, you know, the most basic police services. I don't really think that we're going to see police departments across the United States getting dozens of these things and operating them.

I think it's a useful tool, but I think a lot of the concerns that the public often has about, you know, increased government surveillance and that kind of thing, I really don't think that that's going to be an issue.

SHAPIRO: Although our guest Ben Miller says they're actually saving money by using it. Let me ask you, John, does the Cincinnati Police Department have any plans to employ drones, or are there any in use already?

JOHN: Well, to the best of my knowledge, I haven't heard anything about that. I don't believe that we have any now. Is there any plans to get them? I haven't heard any. And we're looking at cutting back, you know, special units and services and that kind of thing anyway. So I agree that I think it could save money, but again the initial expenditure, you know, there's - my wife works for a smaller department, and they're actually five officers below their compliment right now. They might be able to hire one more.

So in terms of who's going to show up at your door, you know, to take a missing persons report, or are we going to spend money on a drone, I think especially with the smaller departments, which most police departments are, we're probably not going to see a lot of these things up in the air. Although again, I think that they're - I think that they could be a very useful tool. I just don't think it's going to be - you know, we're not going to see the skies swarming with drones.

SHAPIRO: Well, thanks for the call, John.

JOHN: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And some of the privacy questions that you mentioned have been studied by Ryan Calo, who is a scholar at Stanford Center for Internet and Society. He teaches law the University of Washington School of Law, as well, and joins us now by phone from the university. Welcome, Professor Calo.

RYAN CALO: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: So how much privacy restriction is there on how drones can be used today?

CALO: Well Ari, you know, there's very little in the way of American privacy law that stands in the way of drones. You know, there is no, for instance, reasonable expectation of privacy in public or from something viewable from a public vantage like your backyard. And on top of that, there's no reasonable expectation of privacy in contraband.

And the reason that those two things matter is that that means that law enforcement largely is able to fly a drone around looking at public spaces, people at people's yards, anything that's visible from the air basically, and the Constitution doesn't have much to say about it.

And in fact, sort of newer iterations of drones could be looking for other things like whether someone's armed, for instance, or using a chemical sensor whether they're growing marijuana, and it's not clear how the Constitution would restrict that use, either.

SHAPIRO: So do you think that Congress is likely to do anything about that?

CALO: Well, I think lots of different quarters are weighing in on this issue. You know, I think that the right way to approach the privacy issue is actually to change privacy law. I think that privacy law in inadequate, and I think that surveillance technology has outpaced it. Instead what we're seeing is lots of different jurisdictions thinking about banning drones altogether or restricting how they're used.

I actually prefer that we restrict how they're used and require warrants in many instances so that we can allay people's concerns but still get the benefits of drones, which are quite substantial.

SHAPIRO: We have an interesting email here from someone named Matthew(ph), who says he designed avionics for unmanned aerial vehicles for NASA, and writes: The public sees military UAVs and transfers the same understanding to smaller commercial vehicles. Many commercial UAVS fly for only minutes on battery power with an operational range of only a few hundred feet. If more people understood that, he says, I think the public would be more understanding, but the media likes to sensationalize.

Well, Ben Miller, does that sound like a description of the UAVs that you're using in your police force?

MILLER: You know, I can tell you that comment from Matthew really touches my heart.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: You know, following the conversation nationally over the last couple years, you know, it's one of my largest frustrations. One of the things that we try to pride ourselves on is making sure that we're informing our public of what we do, you know, how we're operating in our community and how we're spending their tax dollars.

And I would - like I said, one of the frustrations is the fact that the sensationalization - if that's a word - of taking, you know, that picture of the Predator drone and applying it to what we are doing. You know, I know this is radio, and it's kind of hard to do the visual thing, but picture something that you could fold up and stick in your backpack. And it really doesn't always tell folks that the only thing that we have in common with a Predator drone that the military uses is flight. And beyond that it's really not very similar.

SHAPIRO: And yet Ryan Calo...

MILLER: And so that's a real challenge.

SHAPIRO: Isn't some of the concern, Ryan Calo, not about where the technology is today but where it'll be tomorrow?

CALO: I think that's exactly right. I think as these things get less expensive and can stay up longer, you know, we might see these civil liberties concerns materialize. But let me stress that, you know, the Department of Homeland Security has Predator drones and has lent them out to local law enforcement. And so it's not a completely unfair criticism that we should be worried about the use of, for instance, Predator drone or at least military-grade technology within the United States.

That said, you know, I tend to agree that people conflate military and non-military type drones, and in fact here in Seattle where I work, basically protesters shut down a drone program of drones that could only stay up in the air for about 15 minutes.

SHAPIRO: All right, hold that thought, Ryan. We're going to take a short break and come right back. Ben and Ryan, both of you please stay with us. And if you work in law enforcement or security, and you're listening at home, tell us: What's the conversation you're having about drones? The number is 1-800-989-8255. Or email us at talk@npr.org. We'll be back in just a moment. I'm Ari Shapiro, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News; I'm Ari Shapiro. As police departments and universities gain permission to fly drones overhead, one place at least is saying no. Earlier this year, Charlottesville, Virginia, became the first American city to pass legislation prohibiting the use of drones. By a three to two vote, the city council forbade the admission of information obtained by drones into state or federal courts, and endorsed a two-year moratorium on drone use in Virginia.

That moratorium proposal passed the state's General Assembly late last month, it's now in the hands of Governor Bob McDonnell. So if you work in law enforcement, security or a related technology field, tell us: What's the conversation you're having about drones? Our number is 1-800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We're going to go to a caller in Boise, Idaho now. This is Michael(ph). Hi Michael, you're on the air.

MICHAEL: Hello.

SHAPIRO: Please go ahead. What are you hearing?

MICHAEL: Well, I work in code enforcement, and we had this discussion earlier this year. First it was just, you know, hypothetical, what if we could use drones to look at properties that normally the Fourth Amendment would prevent me from, say, peering over your fence to see what kind of junk you're keeping in your backyard. But as we discussed earlier, as it was discussed earlier, it became clear that there is nothing that really prevents it.

And I suspect that there's a sort of inner moratorium going on with the city right now because the technology is becoming - well, we can afford it versus, say, sending out five officers and the gas that they do the vehicles and what have you. So ostensibly, I could sit in a control room and look at properties all day long when the complaints come in.

SHAPIRO: Ryan Calo, is he correct that there is nothing to prohibit that?

CALO: He's correct in a number of different ways. One is that when - the cost of something like surveillance go down, often the incident of it goes up. And something that would take a lot of investment of resources just doesn't get done. And as a matter of constitutional law, again as long as they're flying the drone along in a public airway, and they're looking at something that's viewable from a public vantage, then yeah, they can do it.

SHAPIRO: Ben Miller, have you ever used drones for that purpose, to see if somebody's, say, growing marijuana in their backyard?

MILLER: No, and actually I would tend to actually disagree with both Ryan and the caller. You know, I can state - we kind of base our operational procedures and what we will and won't seek warrants for, as far as search and seizure, on quite a lot of different case law, some - one in particular is Katz versus the U.S., and then another one Kyllo versus U.S.

And in both of those, there's kind of some significant comments about the direction of how the Constitution views and protects a person's expectation of privacy. And I think - I don't know if I would totally agree with that. I can tell you that from an agency perspective, as a program manager, if a supervisor were to walk into my office today and say hey, let's get your equipment up, and we want to go look in somebody's backyard, I would direct them towards our judicial district to get a written warrant.

That's the way, you know, our study of case law, that's the way we think it would direct, and that's kind of our practice. I think - I always explain it to folks, if you've done something in your backyard, whether that's a privacy fence of something, and you've done something to where you're physically trying to restrict the public's view of the private area around your home, then it really isn't - if law enforcement was then to take a tool, especially a tool that's not readily available to the public, to overcome those steps that you've done to protect your privacy, then in our view, a search warrant is absolutely necessary.

SHAPIRO: Let's take another call, from Keith(ph) in Gainesville, Florida. Hi Keith.

KEITH: Hi, I'm glad to be on. I am a former law enforcement officer, worked in drone development over 20 years ago, on some technologies from NASA with a local technology group and do consulting now to private folks. The conversation that we've been having is that from law enforcement standpoint, if law enforcement develops guidelines that the public can agree to, that addresses a lot of these fears. The concerns come up when either organizations like code enforcement, which only deals with civil infractions, or when private individuals, paparazzi for example, may have no regulation whatsoever on how they use these things, and then where do you go.

SHAPIRO: Well, Ryan Calo at Stanford, could paparazzi be using drones to photograph Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez?

CALO: Well, that depends on what state law says, right. So in California, for instance, there's an anti-paparazzi law that will get triggered. And I should say I'm really encouraged by this view, which is widespread among law enforcement, that they don't - that they actually would need a warrant to look in your backyard.

But the case law really says otherwise. I mean, if you look at Florida v. Riley from 1989 or the California v. Ciraolo case, 1986, these are cases involving flying over someone's property and looking in there. There's another one called Dow Chemical. But I'm encouraged. I mean, I'm glad that they're seeking warrants. I think that's the right thing to do even if the Constitution doesn't require it.

SHAPIRO: All right, let's take another call from Jay(ph) in Austin, Texas. Hi Jay, go ahead.

JAY: Hi, well, without getting into too much detail here, I worked in national security for a time, and I think a number of people in that area are very aware that it's easy to use technology that they already have access to, to replace a large number of basically eyes on the ground. And I think that there's a hesitation to go down that road because it becomes obvious you could get rid of 70 percent or 80 percent of your labor very rapidly.

SHAPIRO: An unmanned drone doesn't require a man to be employed to fly the aircraft, you're saying.

JAY: Well, and I'm saying let's look at something simple like a disaster area. Let's look at Hurricane Sandy, OK. So you've got debris removal crews working at let's say 50 sites, right, in an area, in a county, right. Now we're going to put a federal employee on the ground at every one of those 50 sites to watch. And what we're not going to do is we're not going to put a drone in the air and just take video of the whole area, you see, because we could get rid of 48 employees and pensions and all kinds of things, you know, hotel rooms, gas, rental cars.

I mean once you start going down that road, then it becomes clear that a lot of people are presently employed in government, local, state and federal level, and you get rid of those jobs today, and...

SHAPIRO: Let me put this question to Ben Miller with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office. Ben, you've talked about the cost savings of unmanned aerial devices. Does cost savings mean people are out of work?

MILLER: You know, that's an excellent question, and I kind of imagine, you know, as I'm listening to that caller. But you know, yes - when people ask me what's the number one reason that you use unmanned aircraft in law enforcement, it's all about cost. And I follow that up with a comment that I'm pretty cheap. You know, $25 an hour is significantly less than manned aviation.

But I think one thing that folks maybe not realize or are quick to forget, that law enforcement, at least in the United States, is about people. I don't think we'll ever - and I recently saw a little blurb about making the actual police car a drone. I don't think law enforcement and public safety in the United States will ever get to a point where the citizens' direct contact is a robot.

And so therefore, I really don't see, unmanned aircraft, at least, ever really taking the place of people. There will always be not only people to operate the systems, but the public has a personal contact expectation from public safety, and I don't think - I really don't ever view any technology totally removing that.

SHAPIRO: Ryan Calo, talk about the lay of the land. I understand that a few years ago, the government put some severe restrictions on who can use drones in the U.S. And those restrictions are about to be lifted. Describe what's happening.

CALO: Right, so basically those restrictions are being lifted in two stages. First, as against law enforcement and other public agencies. And then, eventually, as against everyone, you know, commercial uses of drones. So sometime in 2015, the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, will have to lift its ban on the domestic use of drones, even for commercial entities. And so that's part of what is occasioning all this conversation about the use of drones in America.

SHAPIRO: Then will people who are allowed to use drones have to adhere to any kind of restrictions? I mean, if I just want to snoop on my neighbors, is that allowed?

CALO: I hope so. In fact I support...

SHAPIRO: You hope it's allowed for me to snoop on my neighbors?

CALO: No, I hope...

(LAUGHTER)

CALO: I don't know your neighbors, but I actually hope that (unintelligible) that there are restrictions on this. And so I support the view of EPIC - Electronic Privacy Information Center - that says look, if you're going to issue licenses, FAA, then you should take privacy into account. And if you want to give law enforcement the right to use a drone in their airspace, you should see that they have a privacy protecting plan.

And not all do. It sounds like Ben does, but not all have that in place. And I think the FAA could do that.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, it just sounds like there's a lot of ambiguity right now. Let's go to another caller. This is Sue(ph) in Roanoke, Virginia. Hi Sue, go ahead.

SUE: Hi, as a private paid therapist that deals very much with police officers and their personal issues, my concern is not so much for - since you have police on here, I guess this is what prompted this. My concern is not so much for the public use as it is for police misuse, because I could tell you police misuse every form of technology for personal issues.

And as we know, alcoholism and domestic (unintelligible) unfortunately is very high amongst the forces in police and also, you know, public National Guard, Army and that kind of folks...

SHAPIRO: Although, you know, I would think that if people can misuse any technology that's available to them, you know, then it sounds like the answer is to crack down on the misuse and the abuse, not to crack down on the technology, right?

SUE: Well, that's, I guess, what I'm saying, is that we - I just - you know, that conversation needs to be opened up and used. I mean, I think that we need to really, you know, use our resources and technology to make sure people are using this effectively. So when you talk to anyone in government or law enforcement, I think one of the questions should be how do you protect, you know, your own ranks from misusing this particular technology? That's a very frightening idea, or...

SHAPIRO: Ben Miller, is that something that - is that a concern that's arisen in your experience with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office? It sounds like perhaps we might have lost Ben Miller. So apologies. We'll try to get him back on the line. But, Ryan Calo at Stanford, perhaps you can address this, concerns about people who have the technology, just being able to misuse it, you know, whether police or anyone else.

CALO: Well, I tend to think that, as you suggest, Ari, that drones are a tool and that anyone can misuse a tool, and they're a very powerful one, and we should be, you know, skeptical as our baseline. But I think also they potentially have wonderful uses, both in the hands of a public entity and also in the hands of private individuals, and that the right thing, again, is to make sure that we're - you know, have privacy law right and so people don't - these legitimate fears don't get - don't actually get realized.

SHAPIRO: Let's go to another caller. This is Blake in Murray, Kansas. Hi, Blake. Go ahead.

BLAKE: Hi. It's actually Kentucky.

SHAPIRO: Oh, I'm sorry. Murray, Kentucky.

BLAKE: Yeah. Absolutely. I am an aerial videographer here in Murray, Kentucky, and I often use UAVs - not the, you know, commercial type, just mostly quadrotors - to map real estate and fields and things like that around the area. It's a - it's an indispensable tool for someone in my position to do, but there's always an issue of privacy, you know? You have to...

SHAPIRO: And when you say you're an aerial videographer, is this for commercial purposes, or is it for artistic films that you're posting on Vimeo or YouTube?

BLAKE: It's commercial. You know, if somebody's trying to sell a house or something, I'll fly around the house and put that on the website and do the videography for that.

SHAPIRO: And what kinds of privacy concerns have you run into?

BLAKE: Well, usually, you know, if it's in a neighborhood, you want to go around all the neighbors and make sure they're informed that, you know, there's going to be something flying around that could possibly - you know, you don't want somebody on your back porch, you know...

SHAPIRO: Firing a shotgun at it.

BLAKE: Yes. Yeah. Exactly.

SHAPIRO: And have you encountered pushback from people who say, no, I don't want that thing buzzing around?

BLAKE: Oh, yeah. Not really. You know, as long as people are notified, you know, it's - beforehand, it's fine.

SHAPIRO: We're talking about unmanned drones, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. We still have Blake on the line. And, Blake, I'm curious. When you say you're not using commercial drones, can somebody just sort of like buy a remote control airplane and strap a camera to it and effectively they've got a drone?

BLAKE: Yup. They don't last for hours or an hour as, you know, the ones that police stations are utilizing. But, you know, 15 or so minutes of flight time is fairly enough, you know?

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, thanks for the call, Blake. It's really interesting.

BLAKE: Absolutely.

SHAPIRO: We have an email here from Tom in Astoria, Oregon, who asks: Do state and local governments have authority to regulate UAVs and their use?

Ben Miller, have you had these conversations with folks in Mesa, Arizona, where - oh, in Grand Junction, Colorado - in Mesa County, Colorado, that is?

MILLER: Sorry. Which conversation?

SHAPIRO: Can state and local governments regulate the use of drones? We sort of talked about whether Congress will pass privacy laws. But as we said, Charlottesville, Virginia, City Council just passed this prohibition against drone use.

MILLER: Well, you know, that's - I think it's, at this time - and maybe Ryan, you know, with a legal background, is maybe a better person to ask the question of, but, you know, I think at this time it's really hard to say. You know, there's thought that the FAA manages airspace because it runs from, you know, one state to the next.

But when we're talking, you know, like the last caller, of small systems that fly for 15 minutes and have a very short range, our smallest system only flies a quarter mile, tops. Maybe, you know, that interstate piece, as far as the FAA managing, might not be, you know, the way of the future. It's just that it's very early and hard to say. State and local restricting use? I don't know. That's a good question.

SHAPIRO: We're going to go to a caller now in Tucson, Arizona. And I'm sorry. I actually don't have your name up here. So tell us your name and then go ahead. Tell us what you're calling about.

ANDREW: My name is Andrew. In Tucson, Arizona, the local municipality has aerial photos that are incredibly detailed for construction purposes. They're completely open to the public. They have the option of even rotating down and seeing inside the windows of a home. So as far as, you know, the discussion about whether the legality is there or not, it seems to me they're already doing it.

SHAPIRO: Hmm, interesting. Well, thanks for the call. And, Ryan Calo at Stanford, let me ask you. Are drones just a variation on a technology that we've had for a long time, whether it's Google Earth or manned helicopters or, you know, other ways of viewing things on the Earth from the air?

CALO: Oh, we certainly have the capability of using satellites or very expensive so-called spy planes to do this. I think one big difference is that, first of all, it's in everyone's hands, and, second of all, you can observe things in real time. You know, so I do think it is a different flavor of an old technology, but it's a very powerful one.

The other thing is that, increasingly, what we're seeing is applications of drones that are not just video, right? So, you know, Homeland Security commissioned some drones recently that were capable of pinpointing and intercepting electronic communications like from a cellphone. And so, you know, not just video, not just audio, but a whole panoply of sensors can be attached to drones.

SHAPIRO: We have been talking about surveillance drones, and we should say that, you know, drones that drop bombs that we've talked about in wars overseas are not used in the U.S. Ryan Calo, are there clear, legal prohibitions against that kind of drone use by either the federal government or police department or others who may have recently used lethal force?

CALO: Well, there are general bans against using military technology within our borders, although, we tend to do sort of a version of it all the time. I think that's actually a place where state and local municipalities have played a great role, which is to ban the use of lethal and non-lethal weapons. I say non-lethal weapons because, you know, you really have to have a lot of situational awareness to know when it's appropriate to fire a taser and as such, and...

SHAPIRO: Or tear gas, and something like that.

CALO: Right. Sure. And so you want there to be the person, I mean, you know, you really want someone on the ground, making a decision as to whether that's the appropriate use. And the worry is if you remove the person and make them an operator from far away and that they'll maybe more, more likely, to pull that trigger, especially for non-lethal weapons. And so, I think that's a great place for the state and local governments to get involved.

SHAPIRO: That's Ryan Calo, law professor at the University of Washington and scholar at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society. We spoke to him by phone from his office at the University of Washington. And we we're also joined by Ben Miller, the unmanned aircraft program manager for the Mesa County Sheriff's Office. We spoke to him from Grand Junction, Colorado. Thanks to both of you for being on the show.

CALO: Thanks for having us.

MILLER: Yeah. Thanks for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.