‘No Drone Zone’ in Virginia?

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."

The Charlottesville resolution brings even more attention to a government white paper leaked to NBC News outlining the ethics of using drones to strike U.S. citizens believed to be leaders of terrorist groups. The paper has generated controversy surrounding today’s nomination hearings for proposed CIA director John Brennan.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in at least 10 other states are proposing various restrictions on the use of drones in their skies amid concerns unmanned aerial vehicles could be exploited by local authorities to spy on Americans.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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