WASHINGTON -- Thousands of drones patrolling U.S. skies?
Predictions that multitudes of unmanned aircraft could be flying here within a decade are raising the specter of a "surveillance society" in which no home or backyard would be off limits to prying eyes overhead. Law enforcement, oil companies, farmers, real estate agents and many others have seen the technology that was pioneered on battlefields, and they are eager to put it to use.
It's not just talk: The government is in the early stages of devising rules for the unmanned aircraft.
So far, civilian use of drones is fairly limited. The Federal Aviation Administration had issued fewer than 300 permits for drones by the end of last year.
Public worries about drones began mostly on the political margins, but there are signs that they're going mainstream.
Jeff Landry, a freshman Republican congressman from Louisiana's coastal bayou country, says constituents have stopped him while shopping at Walmart to talk about their concerns.
"There is a distrust amongst the people who have come and discussed this issue with me about our government," Landry said. "It's raising an alarm with the American public."
Fear that some drones may be armed, for example, has been fueled in part by a county sheriff's office in Texas that used a homeland security grant to buy a $300,000, 50-pound ShadowHawk helicopter drone for its SWAT team. The drone can be equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun.