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But privacy concerns have already prompted members of Congress to introduce bills to prohibit any government agency from using a drone to “gather evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct or conduct in violation of a regulation” without a warrant.

McDuffee said there are many uses for drones that wouldn’t generate controversy. For example, scientists have used drones to monitor airborne pollution levels and numbers of sea lions in the Arctic and to monitor hurricanes.

“They go in places where you would never consider risking a human life,” he said.

He added that drones also could be used to create temporary communications networks after natural disasters, if regular service went out.

“They’re almost like miniature satellites,” McDuffee said. “That’s the beauty of these systems.”