Government agencies, law enforcement officials angry at backlash
Feb 22, 2013
The states of Virginia and Washington moved significantly closer to banning spy drones yesterday, making legislative progress that has angered government agencies and law enforcement.
The Washington Times reports that the Virginia General Assembly approved a moratorium on drone aircraft in the state, sending the legislation to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk.
The Senate passed their version of the bill, which advocates a blanket ban on the use of drones except where missing person searches are concerned, for the next two years. Members voted by a 40-0 vote after accepting an amendment from the House, which passed their bill, HB2012, Wednesday.
“We are pleased that it’s on the way to the governor with strong bipartisan support,” bill sponsor Delegate Benjamin L. Cline, Augusta Republican, told reporters in Charlottesville, Va. “We hope that the governor will also share our support for a breathing period to get some rules in place.”
Although the bill does not go quite as far as Delegate Todd Gilbert’s legislative push last year for a permanent strict ban on surveillance by drones, it is a step in the right direction as far as privacy advocates are concerned.
Gov. McDonnell is expected to approve the moratorium, despite comments he made last year when he described warrantless drones as “great”, citing “battlefield successes”.
“If you’re keeping police officers safe, making it more productive and saving money… it’s absolutely the right thing to do.” McDonnell said on the deployment of drones in the state.
The approval of the moratorium on drones comes in the wake of the passage of legislation by city officials in Charlottesville, Va to keep drones out of their airspace altogether, making it the first US city to enact such a ban. Whether city officials will be able to extend their ban to federal drone aircraft or not remains to be seen.
In a similar move in Washington State yesterday, legislation to limit drone use was approved 9-1 by a House Committee, and will move forward to the Rules Committee before potentially heading to the floor of the House.
“I’m pleased the Committee moved H.B. 1771 with a ‘Do Pass’ recommendation. We’ve been working on the issue for several months and we have a lot of work left to do, but we passed the first hurdle today. It’s a great day for freedom and liberty in Washington State,” said Rep. David Taylor (R), the primary sponsor of the bill.
Much like the Virginia push, the Washington legislation allows for drones to be used for surveillance, by government agencies and law enforcement, only if a warrant is issued, or in search and rescue situations.
“This bill quite simply provides protection to the citizens of Washington state from warrantless surveillance. That’s our intent here. To start a conversation and say if these things are going to be used, you will protect the Constitutional rights of the citizens,” said Rep.Taylor.
“The entire drone issue is not going to be solved with just this one bill, but this will get the law enforcement side under control because there are no clear guidelines out there right now for the use of these drones and we could put the state on the hook with liability if these drones are used in an improper manner,” said Rep. Matt Shea (R), another sponsor.
“Drones are the equivalent of King George the III’s General Warrants. We must get their use by public agencies and law enforcement under control now to protect the people of Washington from warrantless searches and seizure. Just imagine what state environmental agencies could do with drones …. Tyranny,” said another sponsor, Rep. Jason Overstreet (R).
Many testified in support of the drone ban, including a former FBI official, as well as regular citizens. Officials from government agencies and drone manufacturers expressed anger, and argued that the ban would cost jobs, hinder safety efforts, and lead to over-regulation of law enforcement searches.
The Washington state push comes in the wake of a scrapping of plans by Seattle city officials to roll out drones. Mayor Mike McGinn ordered the city police department to abandon extensive plans it had to roll out drones it has already acquired through federal grant money.
Several other states and cities are considering legislation to prohibit the use of drones in domestic skies. Oregon became the latest state to do so recently with the introduction of a bill setting out licensing requirements for drone use in the state. The bill would fine those who use unlicensed drones to conduct surveillance. New limitations are also being proposed for federal evidence collected by drone use in a state court.
Meanwhile, in related news, Rolling Stone notes that the drone industry is set to launch an all out PR offensive to convince Americans that the unmanned vehicles are more than just tools for spying and assassinations.
Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham, and a Bachelor Of Arts Degree in Literature and Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University.