manufacturers market drones before the law specifies how they can be used

They can record video images and produce heat maps. They can be used to track fleeing criminals, stranded hikers — or just as easily, political protesters.

So begins today’s New York Times article about drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles. A handful of police departments already use them, but no federal or local statutes specify how the data collected can be stored, used, or shared. For example, police officers in Charlottesville are prohibited from using such data in criminal cases, while proposals in Arizona, Montana, and the U.S. Congress would apparently allow such use as long as the police obtained a search warrant before collecting the data. A court order would also suffice according to the privacy legislation introduced in Congress on Thursday.

The New York Times reports that drones “are becoming a darling of law enforcement authorities across the country.” Last week, however, Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn responded to protests by scrapping the Seattle Police Department’s plan to deploy them. As in China, surveillance that supposedly helps stop criminals or reduce crime is simultaneously used to monitor and discourage dissidents.