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McNeal Testifies before Congress on Drones and Domestic Surveillance

Associate Professor of Law Gregory McNeal testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary on May 17 regarding the use of unmanned aerial systems, known commonly as drones, for surveillance purposes inside the U.S. Professor McNeal, an expert in national security law and policy, cautioned against the use of broadly worded warrant requirements as a tool to protect privacy or public safety. Instead, he recommended surveillance legislation that would require more transparency in the use of these systems by law enforcement.

McNeal's testimony offered various considerations for pending legislation, including arguing against blanket prohibitions on the use of drones for the collection of evidence or information unless authorized by a warrant, and the argument that broadly worded use restrictions that prohibit use of evidence gathered by drones exceed the parameters of the Fourth Amendment and may not serve to protect privacy. Furthermore, McNeal argued that Congress should eschew drone specific legislation and instead look to legislating what places are entitled to privacy protection and clearly define search terminology including terms such as surveillance and private property.

"What's interesting about working in national security is that there is a foreign affairs and international law aspect to my work that was one strand of my research, drones being used on battlefields," McNeal said. "But, national security also encompasses domestic law enforcement, homeland security, and all manner of government surveillance and tracking. Those issues also relate to my teaching, specifically criminal procedure and criminal law."

McNeal noted that his writing on the topic began when policymakers became interested in how drone technology would be used in the United States and what the legal implications of such use might be. That writing, he said, was in the form of short essays that have appeared in Forbes and longer draft papers that will soon be published law review articles. The writing provided an opportunity for McNeal to speak at the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International national conference.

"This was the biggest gathering of manufacturers in the aerospace industry and my panel was focused on privacy law and surveillance," McNeal said. "From that experience I began hearing from legislators at the federal level and from various state governments, to the point where about once every other week over the past year I've been fielding a phone call or an email from someone asking me to comment on draft legislation. All of that came to a head last week with my invitation to testify before the House Judiciary Committee."

McNeal is a professor at Pepperdine University where his research and teaching focus on national security law and policy, criminal law and procedure and international law. He previously served as Assistant Director of the Institute for Global Security, co-directed a transnational counterterrorism grant program for the U.S. Department of Justice, and served as a legal consultant to the Chief Prosecutor of the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions on matters related to the prosecution of suspected terrorists held in the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is a Forbes contributor where he writes a column about law, policy and security.