Law Enforcement Agencies and Drone Surveillance: An Ethical Dilemma

Law enforcement agencies frequently use unmanned aircraft in surveillance missions. Police personnel can trace offenders using this method. Drone use in law enforcement has long been a source of contention. There has been much discussion about whether or not police officers should deploy drones. However, the question should be whether using drones to monitor people’s actions is ethical. Drone use is clearly unethical because it violates privacy rights. The vast majority of surveillance operations are carried out without the individuals’ knowledge or agreement. As a result, their private life is disrupted, and vital information is shared with others. Maintaining security is critical in every culture. However, it should not be conducted in a manner that embraces unethical practices. Proper measures should be taken to ascertain that drones are utilized professionally and ethically to achieve the common goal of all people. Legal interventions can help eliminate the hindrances that have been affecting Americans negatively.


The use of drones in law enforcement agencies has increased tremendously in the last couple of decades. Police and military units are using these devices in fighting crime and also in assisting rescue missions. On a broader perspective, drones are being used by intelligence and security firms to collect the information needed to curb crime. However, their usage has attracted varied opinions regarding whether they are ethical or not. A vast majority of the global population, especially in the U.S., believes that the use of drones for surveillance by security systems is immoral. Precisely, drones are capable of capturing videos of people engaging in their day to day activities. Thus, their use is wrong in that it interferes with people’s privacy without their consent.

Research Questions

- Is the use of drone surveillance by security agencies unethical?

- What ethical requirements should be met to enhance ethics in drone usage?

- Is the government violating individual privacy rights by using drone surveillance?

- Does drone surveillance violate the constitution?


The use of drones is an unethical practice since it interferes with the public’s privacy. As security agencies collect their intelligence, they do so without their permission. Unmanned aircraft may be seen as appropriate systems for enhancing security. However, their damages are extensive since they break the law. Despite the prolonged use of drones in the U.S., no effort has been channeled towards ethical issues, both locally and abroad (West & Bowman, 2016). Drones have been used by U.S. security forces across borders to fight terrorism. In Iraq and Afghanistan, numerous drone attacks have been launched by military forces hence resulting in uncountable deaths of innocent civilians (Albrecht, 2015). Thus, the outcome of drone usage is one aspect that renders them unethical regardless of the country in question.

The unethical nature of drone surveillance is portrayed by its deviation from the Fourth Amendment’s requirements. This section of the U.S. Constitution stands against unreasonable searches. To be precise, the constitution values everyone’s privacy, hence calling for search warrants whenever security forces need to access private information. The unethical aspect of drones emanates from observing people without any probable cause (Breshears, 2016). Since not all people are criminals, law enforcement agencies should consider using other appropriate mechanisms. This approach is essential in that there exist other techniques that can provide intelligence ethically, without invading people’s rights and the constitution.

Police Ethics

Social Contract

Drone surveillance on the public is highly based on the social contract theory. This theory assumes that people should surrender some of their freedoms to allow the authorities to uphold their remaining rights. In this setup, people sacrifice their freedoms, thereby not being able to do what they please. The social contract aspect requires members of any society to focus on acting both rationally and morally. In this case, the social contract theory paves the way for security agencies to use drones to carry out their intelligence and surveillance operations. The subject issue is that security and the well-being of every citizen are more important than their privacy. The social contract theory perfectly explains the relationship between American citizens and the police forces’ drone activities. This theory argues that all leadership issues should agree upon by the citizens in pursuit of mutual preservation (Andrews, 2016). The current state of affairs in the U.S. is complicated since drone activities are facing both opponents and proponents. This theory operates under the consent of the governed people’s concept. This phrase implies that the legitimacy or morality of a government becomes lawful when approved by the people. In this case, drone activities in the U.S. remain unethical since the people’s consent has not been sought. If the practice is allowed to continue, their privacy will always be violated by police departments.

Ethical Standards

The issue of using drones for surveillance purposes continues to get more complicated. Despite this challenge, there are various ethical standards that police officers should observe. Police officers should ascertain that their use of drones does not interfere with anyone’s privacy. Most surveillance operations are carried out without targeting a specific person (Luppicini & So, 2016). This practice ends up invading the privacy of other people who are not involved. As a result, American police forces continually interfere with many peoples’ rights. If drones must be used, then they should be employed only in situations that demand them. The main idea is ascertaining the presence of probable cause to avoid infringing on civilian rights. Due to this aspect, lawmakers are calling for police officers to first seek legally approved warrants before using drones in any region.

Police officers should also employ ethics in handling the already-recorded footage. Precisely, these videos should be handled for security operations and not any other activities. For example, they should not be disclosed to unauthorized personnel who are not involved in security issues. This measure is suitable for ascertaining that the privacy of members of the public is guaranteed and safeguarded accordingly (Siddiqi, 2012). The subject issue is to employ the utmost professionalism in surveillance activities for the benefit of all people. Also, another significant ethical consideration is using drones for the benefit of the whole society. Drone surveillance ought to be applied to eliminate security threats that can affect the well-being of the society. This ethical standard is aimed at ascertaining that drones are utilized in reasonable searches rather than conducting surveillance that is incapable of solving any problem. By observing these issues accordingly, it will be easy for drones to create a secure environment where people can go about their daily activities without fear.

Police Tools

Manned Aircraft

To avoid the unending debate unmanned drone usage, police units should concentrate on manned aircraft. This move is essential in that the involvement of human beings can help observe ethics accordingly. Manned aircraft is integral to conducting unplanned surveillance operations. Their significance is that they adapt to situations more easily than the unmanned ones. Police departments should concentrate on their use since the chances of violating people’s privacy rights are minimal (Luppicini & So, 2016). The same case applies to collecting prohibited personal information since humans are capable of following instructions as required. The most important factor is that manned drones enhance public confidence. Currently, many Americans do not have confidence in unmanned drones because they interfere with their private lives. Manned aircraft can help solve the ethical problems being associated with drone surveillance in the country and overseas. Some unmanned aircraft carries stinger missiles and other weapons that cause many deaths and injuries.

Technological systems can be faulty at times, thereby resulting in costly accidents. Thus, it is crucial to rely on manned aircraft since humans can obtain appropriate control on all occasions. Manned drones are capable of collecting and passing verifiable information for use by security agencies (Thresher, 2017). This factor explains why emphasis should be made on expanding their scope of usage in surveillance activities. The modern society’s technology is not sufficient enough to grant unmanned drones the chance to make complex judgments. Human interventions are still needed to ensure that the information collected is reliable enough to initiate the necessary security measures. In the Middle East, American drone attacks have been accused of innocent civilian death. The killing of unarmed civilians promotes the lack of ethics in surveillance operations. Thus, American police officers should have their personnel manning the drones for efficiency purposes (Asaro, 2013). This intervention is crucial since it is a perfect way of upholding ethics and responsibility in law enforcement agencies.

Video Surveillance

Technological advancements in the security sector have enabled police officers to expand their modes of gathering information. Video surveillance is one approach that is being used to identify any crime-related or suspicious activities. The current video surveillance systems are improved to the extent of broadcasting live feeds to internet-enabled smartphones or computers (Siddiqi, 2012). In the U.S., this technology is actively used in surveillance operations due to its efficiency. Nowadays, undercover police officers use spy cameras to record activities in their areas of interest. As a result, collecting reliable evidence is higher and easier today than it was in the past.

The most common video surveillance technique being used in the U.S. is closed circuit television (CCTV). With many CCTVs being fitted in public areas, people have continuously complained about their lack of ethics. As such, proper measures are needed to ensure that video surveillance systems are utilized appropriately for the safety of all people ethically. In the UK, the fight for ethics has created a situation where video surveillance systems are used only by the private sector. Individuals use them to monitor their businesses and homesteads (Dalziel, 2014). Video surveillance in the U.S. is facing debates regarding its ethics and credibility. For instance, many people associate it with institutional abuse in police operations. Based on this aspect, it is evident that every surveillance mechanism is being associated with numerous unethical issues. Although video surveillance is essential, police officers should conduct it in a manner that upholds the people’s rights and freedoms.

Drones and Code of Conduct

Ethics Proposed

Various ethical proposals have been raised regarding how drones should be used in security surveillance operations. One crucial ethical requirement is that a drone should be flown at a safe distance that does not interfere with a person’s privacy. On a broader perspective, surveillance should not be carried ad an unsafe distance that interferes with people’s privacy without seeking their approval (West & Bowman, 2016). This factor is aligned with the need for privacy among people who are not criminals or suspects. Another requirement is that if surveillance is to be carried out in an unsafe distance from a man-made structure, the owner’s permission should be first sought. On a legal approach, a drone should not be used in a manner that violates any federal aviation regulation or statute. This suggestion touches on the Fourth Amendment, which upholds the privacy of every American citizen. Also, the use of drones should not violate state laws. For instance, not all states advocate drone surveillance due to the ethical issues involved. Thus, police officers should ensure that they obey all the enacted laws regarding drone surveillance operations (Dalziel, 2014). This action plan is significant in that all laws are passed to safeguard the interests and rights of civilians. By taking this approach, it will be easier for law enforcement agencies to utilize drone surveillance ethically.

Model for Standard

The usability of drones is profoundly influenced by their efficiency. As such, there are various standards that should be met for surveillance operations to be carried out efficiently. Security surveillance drones should be made using the latest technologies. Improved technologies guarantee efficiency in the collection and broadcasting of information. The drones should be built in a manner that supports upgrades for the purposes of remaining relevant in surveillance operations. Another necessary standard is improved power performance to guarantee police officers adequate time to gather intelligence. Longevity of operations enhances surveillance, hence promoting the people’s security and well-being. Standard drones should observe superior weight standards for easy maneuvering (Kennedy & Rogers, 2015). The weight has to be manageable since it influences power usage and the general functionality of the drone. The basic requirement is ease of operation to avoid the occurrence of unnecessary faults. A drone that is not complex to operate guarantees reliable feedback occasionally. Whether manned manually or remotely, police drones should be well-built to guarantee accuracy. The cameras and video should be of high-quality to ascertain that all videos are reliable. All these measures should be considered for efficiency purposes, as well as to allow law enforcement agencies to accomplish their objectives.

Conclusion and Recommendations


Drone surveillance is common in American security institutions. Its high usage is attributed to the belief that it is effective in collecting crucial intelligence information. The only obvious challenge is that this technique is not ethical. This aspect results from the idea of monitoring people without their consent. People’s privacy is being infringed on a daily basis on the quest to create secure environments. Conducting drone surveillance also violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects civilians from unnecessary searches. At the moment, Americans are divided on whether this practice is significant or not. The subject issue that needs attention is the lack of ethics on how law enforcement units use unmanned aircraft. The issue of ethics should be given more attention for the well-being of all civilians.


The challenges facing drone usage in the U.S. exist due to the absence of appropriate legal interventions. There exist numerous action plans that should be undertaken to streamline drone surveillance. Legislators should follow the property rights method to enact laws that inhibit aerial surveillance. Through this concept, land and homeowners can exclude drone surveillance to a certain height above the ground. This technique can help eliminate the public and private harm attributed to drones. Legislators should also enact laws that limit the duration that police officers should conduct their surveillance on a specific individual. This recommendation is essential in that it will eliminate persistent surveillance which can be carried out by both manned and unmanned drones. Legislators should also work towards enacting accountability and transparency measures. For example, police departments should be required to publish regular information regarding their use of both manned and unmanned surveillance. If these measures are put in place, all the harm associated with drones will be eradicated in pursuit of all the people’s privacy and well-being.


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Andrews, S. M. (2016). An Analysis of American Drone Strikes in the Middle East, North Africa Region and the Development of Radical Anti-Americanism. Journal of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Excellence, 7(1), 41-44.

Asaro, P. M. (2013). The labor of surveillance and bureaucratized killing: new subjectivities of military drone operators. Social Semiotics, 23(2), 196-224.

Breshears, A. A. (2016). Use of Armed Drones by Domestic Law Enforcement: Presence and the Fourth Reasonableness Factor. TM Cooley L. Rev., 33, 183.

Dalziel, N. (2014). Drone strikes: ethics and strategy. New Zealand International Review, 39(3), 2.

Kennedy, C., & Rogers, J. I. (2015). Virtuous drones?. The International Journal of Human Rights, 19(2), 211-227.

Luppicini, R., & So, A. (2016). A technoethical review of commercial drone use in the context of governance, ethics, and privacy. Technology in Society, 46, 109-119.

Siddiqi, A. A. (2012). Implications of using artificial intelligence technology in modern warfare. In Communications and Information Technology (ICCIT), 2012 International Conference (pp. 30-35).

Thresher, I. (2017). Can Armed Drones Halt the Trend of Increasing Police Militarization. Notre Dame JL Ethics & Pub. Pol’y, 31, 455.

West, J. P., & Bowman, J. S. (2016). The Domestic Use of Drones: An Ethical Analysis of Surveillance Issues. Public Administration Review, 76(4), 649-659.


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