Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
A moratorium would allow Virginia to adopt rules on how agencies could use drones without violating privacy rights.
Friday, March 22, 2013
Drones aren’t just for hunting terrorists.
You, too, may someday own a drone. In fact, you could now purchase a fairly inexpensive, crude low-range craft equipped with a camera that you could program with your iPad to check to see if shingles blew off your roof during the latest windstorm. Or, for those with voyeuristic tendencies, it could be deployed to peep on the neighbors, although that particular use would be ill-advised.
Police, too, could use more sophisticated drones to search for lost hikers in hard-to-access terrain or to scope out a potentially dangerous crime scene before sending officers into harm’s way. Or law enforcement agencies could use drones to spy on any of us without any judicial oversight.
As with each advancement in technology, use is limited only by humans’ imagination, technical skills and by society’s laws. The problem with drones is that they break new ground in the capability to peer into previously off-limit places without any rules to govern their use. As prices decrease and accessibility increases, government agencies are dreaming of ways to use unmanned aerial vehicles.
Before that happens, all of Virginia’s senators and nearly all its delegates want to hit the pause button so that those rules can be written. The two-year moratorium seemed a reasonable, uncontroversial approach that would gain Gov. Bob McDonnell’s endorsement, but then industry lobbying began with stealth complaints that Virginia would not be competitive in landing jobs in the growing drone industry, or even that a moratorium would harm Virginia Tech’s chance of landing one of six federal drone test ranges.
The ACLU of Virginia in a letter sent this week to McDonnell exposes those complaints as bogus. Nothing in the moratorium would interfere with Tech’s Unmanned Systems Laboratory, nor would it impede the growth of the 50 companies tied to Virginia that make drones or offer related parts and service.
The use of drones is already on hold for commercial or personal use, awaiting rules expected to be issued in 2015 by the Federal Aviation Administration. Virginia’s moratorium would expire before then; besides, it pertains only to law enforcement and regulatory use while still allowing drones to be used to search for missing children or to hunt cop killers or conduct rescues.
Agencies that seek to use drones should welcome the time to help develop rules that would allow them to use these tools without placing at risk individuals’ rights or the ability to successfully prosecute cases. Without rules, Virginia’s air space could turn into a lawless realm without much to police the police.
Weather JournalNew batch of moisture for PM