February has been a pretty busy month for anti-drone legislation, as a handful of cities and states have seen an increase in bills, resolutions and movements against drone technology and aircrafts. It's a clash between those who believe drones violate the public's privacy and those who believe drones increase the public's safety. With the capability to police the masses from high above, approaching an acceptable middle ground could prove quite difficult.
Drones have been in use for many years on the home front. It was 2005 when Congress first authorized Customs and Border Protection to purchase unarmed, unmanned drone spy planes called Predators. Eight Predators are used on the northern and southwestern borders of the country as a way to locate illegal immigrants and smugglers. Reported uses of the drones to assist local, state and federal law enforcement have taken place. An Air Force base in North Dakota attracted attention about two years ago when their unmanned aircraft was used to help local police with surveillance. Privacy advocates became agitated.
The Predator is a spy drone plane known to have furthered the revolutionizing of modern warfare. When the unmanned aircraft was first used to locate the whereabouts of suspected criminals (and successfully sensed that they were unarmed), the game changed for law enforcement officials. Police were able to swoop in and make an arrest â€“ becoming the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with the assistance of a Predator. The local police craved more, and started using two unarmed Predators based at Grand Forks Air Force Base to fly dozens of surveillance flights thereafter.
Despite the head of the police SWAT team in Grand Forks stating that drones are not used on every call, the increase in use is something that could increasingly escalate. This is why politicians across the U.S. have been making strides to limit law enforcement's ability to use drones.
Charlottesville, Virginia Becomes the Firstâ€¦
The first city to formally pass anti-drone legislation is Charlottesville in Virginia â€“ with a resolution to ban all municipal agencies from purchasing or leasing drones. Wording from the resolution includes: "calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court" and "pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones." Passed by a 3-2 vote, a proposed two-year moratorium on drones in Virginia also gained support.
Drone use in Virginia has been seen as a clear threat to the public's constitutional right to privacy. Councilmembers are most interested in establishing guidelines for drone use before things get out of hand. The resolution that passed is less restrictive than the original push to make the city a 'No Drone Zone.' Initially, some wanted to ban all drones used over Charlottesville airspace. Sadly, the final legislation will have nothing to do with preventing federal- or state-operated drones from conducting their business over Charlottesville â€“ which is not too far from Washington, DC.
However, other places are following suit in creating anti-drone legislation.
In Texas, State Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) has filed a bill that would make the state enforce the toughest anti-drone legislation in the U.S. Gooden wishes to outlaw the use of drones not only by state or federal law enforcement, but also by individuals. Gooden's bill would allow limited exceptions, such as allowing drones within 25 miles of the Rio Grande to assist in drug and illegal immigrant interdiction programs. Law enforcement would also be permitted to use drones when they have a valid search or arrest warrant. If drone use is not restricted, Gooden mentioned the possibility of local police departments laying off officers and replacing them with drones parked "over our homes to keep an eye on all of us."
Also in Minnesota, three Republican senators would like to curb the power that law enforcement agencies have to use drones without a warrant being issued. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, and Dan Hall, R-Burnsville introduced a bill that would "prohibit law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather evidence in certain circumstances." If evidence was unlawfully gathered by drones, it would not be allowed in court, and victims of such unlawful drone usage would become entitled to receive civil compensation as a result.
Give the green light for drone use without limitations and what would the next line of defense become â€“ unmanned aircrafts packing tasers and tear gas flying overhead on a routine basis? Seems like too much room left behind for error and misuse.