‘No Drone Zone’ in Virginia?

MQ-9-ReaperBy Mark Phelps

As the rise of pilotless drones in U.S. airspace becomes more prevalent, some local and state governments are adopting measures to curtail their use. On Monday, the Charlottesville, Virginia, city council became the latest to do so, voting 3-2 in favor of a resolution that “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.”

“If we don’t get out ahead of [the privacy issue] to establish some guidelines for how drones are used, they will be used in a very invasive way and we’ll be left to try and pick up the pieces,” said Dede Smith, a city councilmember in Charlottesville.

The resolution also, “…pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased or borrowed drones.” The resolution was brought before the council by privacy activist David Swanson and the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties advocacy group. Its initial proposal was more draconian, calling for a ban on all drones over city airspace — including banning municipal agencies (police, fire and rescue) agencies from leasing, borrowing or testing drones.

The city acknowledges that its resolution has little concrete effect in and of itself, since the FAA reauthorization legislation mandates promoting the integration of drones into U.S. airspace. But Councilmember Smith said, “Although [resolutions such as this one] don’t have a lot of teeth to them, they can inspire other governments to pass similar measures… One doesn’t do much, but a thousand of them might.”

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