It's wrong, West said, for the FAA to wade into the privacy debate.
"We don't believe the FAA is responsible for privacy," she said. "Their mandate is to create safety in the skies."
Unmanned aircraft used domestically by law enforcement and first responders, she said, don't have the capabilities of a military drone. For starters, they only have between 30 and 60 minutes of flight time.
Currently, commercial use of UAVs is prohibited.
Federal, state and local government agencies and universities are able to fly UAVs on a limited basis, and only with special authorization from the FAA.
Customs and Border Protection uses nine UAVs for border security. NASA uses a Predator to collect real-time hurricane data and to map wildfires.
Local law enforcement agencies, according to the GAO, right now have 146 types of small UAVs to choose from, manufactured by 69 different companies in the U.S. alone.
"We're talking about small systems," West said, adding that one could be transported in the trunk of a patrol car.
The fears, she said, of persistent surveillance by law enforcement are unfounded. "That's not possible right now," she said.
Regardless, the industry believes privacy safeguards already are in place through the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizure, and case law, West said.
She also points to recommended guidelines adopted in August by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for the use of unmanned aircraft.
The guidelines recommend that flights only be used with a search warrant or for a legitimate public safety mission. In addition, except in instances where officer safety could be jeopardized, the guidelines urge agencies to consider using public address systems or a reverse 911 phone system to alert those living and working in the vicinity of an airborne UAV.
But as the technology gets cheaper, said Stanley from the ACLU, police forces in small and medium-sized cities that can't afford a helicopter "might be the first to leap at a chance to have cheaper aerial surveillance."
The conservative Heritage Foundation, with a paper released in September, urged the FAA to consider constitutional concerns and privacy rights before allowing the widespread use of drones.
While the Constitution protects against unreasonable searches, Stanley said it's difficult to predict how judges will interpret the use of drones.
"The courts have not always been very good at keeping that vital privacy right up to date," he said.
On one hand, it should be easy to see how a drone might infringe on an individual's privacy.
"If a police officer followed somebody around for a month, they'd be a little freaked out," he said. "It's doing the same thing, but using technology. It's just as intrusive. Possibly more intrusive. A police officer can't see you in the dark. A drone can."
Wittenberg University sociologist David Nibert doesn't have faith in the courts, pointing to the fact that courts have ruled that drug-sniffing dogs aren't a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Nibert fears the good uses of drones -- locating missing children, for example -- will be outweighed by the misuse.
"Heavy police surveillance has usually been in neighborhoods where people have fewer economic resources," he said. "It seems like a more sophisticated way of stop and frisk."
While UAVs are predicted to become a $90 billion global industry within the next decade, they still seem like the stuff of science-fiction to many.
When asked whether the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which has an aircraft division, had any interest in obtaining or using an unmanned aerial vehicle, a spokeswoman said it was the first time she'd ever even heard of one.
Clark County Sheriff Gene A. Kelly, who gets to use the services of a state helicopter annually to scour for marijuana at no cost, said there's no incentive for his office to get a drone.
"If I needed a helicopter," he said, "I could probably get one here in 30 minutes or less."
For some area residents, like Springfielder Peggy Jenkins, it's just another sign of technology running amok.
"It's enough to see my house on Google Maps to the point that I can almost tell what day of the week the picture was taken," she said. "The more that our privacy is invaded the less freedom we have.
"We won't realize it until it's too late."
A Monmouth University poll on unmanned aerial vehicles found:
42 -- Percent of people polled were very concerned about their own privacy from law enforcement UAVs
80 -- Percent of people who support the use of UAVs for search and rescue
67 -- Percent of people opposed to the use of UAVs to issue speeding tickets
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