May 8, 2013 – State legislators in the United States are trying to limit UAVs in more than three-quarters of states “in the name of privacy rights, clashing with police and industry organizations that argue the efforts unfairly stigmatize a still-developing, widely misunderstood, and potentially useful technology that has an unfortunate link to the killing of terrorists in faraway deserts” .
More than 75 percent of states have bills up this year from politicians trying to head off the use of UAVs in the name of privacy rights. Lawmakers have put forward 85 bills in 39 states, most aimed at protecting citizens from “eyes in the skies.”
The ramped-up effort in the states has put law enforcement officials on the defensive. Police say they use UAVs to search for runaway fugitives, survey developing crime scenes, and monitor hostage situations. The drone industry sees a broad array of other uses, such as fighting forest fires, searching for lost hikers, keeping a watch on erosion, and tracking wildlife populations.
Much of the new legislation requires police agencies to obtain a warrant before deploying a UAV, while allowing exceptions for life-endangering situations. Other legislation is more specific — a Minnesota measure would protect farmers from agricultural officials with an eye in the sky while another would ban attaching weapons to drones.
Florida, Idaho, and Virginia have already passed UAV laws this year. Virginia’s creates a two-year moratorium on drone use by police agencies while the state studies its options. Florida and Idaho are requiring police to get a judge’s permission to use a UAV in most cases. Tennessee and Montana have passed similar legislation that is sitting on the desks of Govs. Bill Haslam, a Republican, and Steve Bullock, a Democrat. The measures were approved by overwhelming margins and strong bipartisan backing in five states — a reflection of the powerful left-right coalition that seeks to clip drones’ wings in the states.
Supporters of drone regulations say the measures are winning support because of growing fears over the extraordinary capabilities of the unmanned devices that critics say make them uniquely invasive.
Robert Hedlund is a Republican state senator in Massachusetts who is sponsoring regulatory legislation. He says that UAVs pose a more serious threat to privacy than widely used police helicopters. “These things [drones] come in all shapes and sizes. They have the ability to be a much more stealthier technology than a helicopter. They can get a lot closer.”
UAV backers believe the public is confusing domestic drones with the lethal Predator drones that the military and the CIA have deployed in the Middle East and elsewhere to engage suspected terrorists.
UAV battle continues in the U.S.
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