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Take time to develop drone policies
Gov. Bob McDonnell should not block the legislature’s two-year moratorium on unmanned aircraft systems.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Drones are a transformational technology that will have countless commercial applications — many of them benign; some, undoubtedly, not yet imagined.
There are, indeed, lives to be saved and there’s money to be made in developing drones for police and civilian uses. Virginia certainly has an interest in being at the forefront of an emerging industry.
But that should give Gov. Bob McDonnell little pause before signing a bill to impose a two-year state moratorium on the use of unmanned aircraft systems (the industry’s preferred term) by state and local law enforcement agencies.
Or, “unmanned aerial vehicles,” another favored trade term.
The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reports that the Virginia Technology Alliance for Public Safety, a coalition of law enforcement and aeronautics interests, has lobbied McDonnell to stop the moratorium in the interests of public safety and job creation.
He should not.
Drones — till now used by the U.S. almost exclusively as a weapon of war that can be armed and deployed for long-range, targeted killings — have been put to purposes so anathema to American values that there can be little wonder at industry attempts to rebrand the technology for commercial use.
Given the potential of drones to do harm, the General Assembly was wise to pass a temporary ban on police use — time for lawmakers to consider reasonable restrictions to protect the civil liberties of the public, among them the right to privacy.
Drones have legitimate law enforcement uses that, deployed legally, will lessen the dangers and extend the reach of limited manpower, all to the public good.
Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, told the newspaper the coalition also will appeal to McDonnell’s wish to buffer the effects of the federal sequester on Virginia’s heavily defense-based economy. Drones can “bring jobs, innovation and more technology.”
There are, indeed, high-paying, high-tech jobs to be had in the development, testing and manufacture of drones. Virginia should go after those jobs. But the Federal Aviation Administration has delayed release of its rules for drones till 2015.
Virginia’s moratorium should have no effect on their development or testing.
The commonwealth has nothing to gain, but much to lose, if it does not take time to develop reasonable regulations to protect the public interest.
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