Lawmakers Take Notice of Domestic Drones


ShadowhawkMore than ever before drones have become the focal point of a national discussion. At the center of this discussion is whether or not the use of drones by the Obama Administration for targeted killing of suspected terrorists constitutes a legitimate use of executive power and whether or not it is an effective strategy for combating terrorism. The debate about the use of drones was front and center this week, as Obama’s nominee for the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), John Brennan, appeared before the Senate for his confirmation hearing. However, there has been another discussion taking place about the use of drones domestically.

As reported by ABC news, lawmakers in eleven states have proposed legislation that would restrict the use of drones in their states. These states include Montana, California, Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, Virginia, Maine and Oklahoma.

In Virginia the a proposed bill in the State Senate would ground drones for a period of two years to allow their use to be studied by government and law enforcement agencies. Stars and Stripes reports that the proposed legislation would allow agencies that currently operate drones to use them in the case of emergencies such as natural disasters or an Amber Alert. The legislation has united a diverse coalition that includes the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and local Tea Party groups.

While the state of Virginia looks to ground drones, the city of Charleston, Virginia has banned drones outright. The local NBC affiliate WVIR reports that the city council passed a resolution that makes Charleston a drone-free zone banning the use of drones for surveillance and other uses. The ordinance was based on model legislation created by the Rutherford Institute, a Libertarian think tank

A Texas lawmaker has filed legislation that would prevent law enforcement agencies from using drones to conduct “indiscriminate surveillance.” According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, the legislation would make it illegal for an “unmanned vehicle or aircraft” to capture video or photographs of private property without the consent of the property’s owner or occupant. However, there are some exemptions including not applying to property within 25 miles of the US-Mexico border where the Department of Homeland Security uses drones to patrol the border.

Legislation filed by an Oregon lawmaker would establish the “Airspace of Oregon” which the state could use to regulate drone use by agencies and private citizens. According to US New and World Report, proponents of the bill are focusing on the use of drones to violate privacy, and want to prevent the creation of a “surveillance state.” However, some experts claim that the law would conflict with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) current jurisdiction over US airspace.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has been documenting the proliferation of domestic drones: “Since 2005, the FAA has issued 78 certificates to commercial drones. The FAA has had to increase staffing in order to keep up with the mounting demand for government licenses. In late 2010, there were 273 active government licenses, nearly 100 more than the previous year. Reports in 2012 demonstrate that the FAA has issued more than 300 drone licenses. Only minimal information has been released on the nature and function of these drones.”

The FAA predicts that the use of drones domestically will only increase. The FAA is laying the regulatory groundwork for drones to be able to fly in US airspace, because they expect that by 2020 there could be as many as 30,000 drones airborne in the U.S. The push for domestic drones is being driven by the defense industry and the members of Congress who they contribute campaign cash.

The question now becomes whether or not these attempts to regulate drones will have any practical effect.

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