Cities, States Move to Ban Drone Use!!!

Across America, people rise up against use of unmanned surveillance aircraft in their localities

By Keith Johnson
From the cold shores of the Pacific Northwest to the sunny beaches of the Gulf Coast, a growing number of concerned Americans are grounding efforts by state and local agencies to deploy spy drones over the skies of U.S. cities. In Seattle, Wash., angry citizens recently forced Mayor Mike McGinn to direct the city’s police department to pack up two newly purchased Dragonfly X6 remote control helicopters and ship them back to the manufacturers. Similar rebellions are taking shape across the nation. But will there ever be enough public support to stave off the onslaught of these invasive, and potentially dangerous, surveillance devices? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently disclosed that it has issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007, and estimates that as many as 10,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be introduced into the nation’s already congested airspace within the next five years. Of course, this proliferationwasmade possible through years of intense lobbying by the drone industry, culminating in the passage of last year’s FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which compels the nation’s aviation authority to modify U.S. airspace rules and allow for widespread deployment of UAVs by 2015. Does that mean that it’s too late to stop them? This AFP reporter recently spoke with Amie Stepanovich, associate litigation counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), whose organization filed a petition with the FAA shortly after the aforementioned legislation was passed into law. “We asked the FAA that, in addition to considering safety issues, they also address the very real privacy concerns that are involved with the integration of drones in the national airspace,” said Stepanovich. “[On Feb. 14,] the FAA finally responded and said they would take public comments on what privacy requirements should be for drone operators—first in the six test sites they are going to decide on in the next couple of months—and then further into full drone deployment throughout the country. This is a fairly big victory for privacy concerning drone use, but we probably need legislation in order to really confront it.” Stepanovich added that although EPIC does not lobby for legislation, they have been tracking efforts throughout the country. “Charlottesville, Va., is really the first to pass a provision that creates a two year moratorium on drone use so they could further study the technology and decide what protections are needed to be put into place,” said Stepanovich. “There are similar movements going on in Washington state, California, as well as legislation being introduced in many states, including Florida, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Oklahoma.” According to Stepanovich, Oregon is one of the latest states seeking to place extremely strict controls on UAVs flying over their airspace. “A version of the Oregon bill that I’ve seen appropriates the licensing authority from the FAA for drones operating within the state,” she said. “And if a drone operator does not receive a license from the proper Oregon state authority, a privately operated drone can be subject to fines and penalties. And as far as public drones are concerned, any surveillance that is collected would be inadmissible as evidence in a court of law. There would also be fines and penalties applied to a violation of that provision.” Although police and sheriff agencies currently use drones on a limited basis, Stepanovich suggests that the federal government is actually encouraging local law enforcement to become increasingly dependent on these intrusive surveillance devices. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is a component of the Department of Homeland Security, has—as far as we know— the largest drone fleet in the country, including 10 Predator B drones, which have incredibly invasive surveillance equipment on them,” said Stepanovich. “These drones are not only being flown by CBP in conjunction with their own mission—which is to protect the border from criminal activity—but are also lent out to other law enforcement agencies for whatever purpose. This is an incredibly broad authority that CBP has to operate drones, not only on the border, but around the country, and subjects people to surveillance at any point in time.” It should come as no surprise, then, that the leading opponents of anti-drone legislation are, almost exclusively, members of the law enforcement community. “In the state of Florida, one lawmaker has proposed legislation that would require a warrant before law enforcement could operate a drone for surveillance purposes,” said Stepanovich. “The state law enforcement agencies have come back and asked for an exception to that requirement for crowd surveillance, which means they can operate a drone to monitor sporting events, demonstrations, political protests or other gatherings of [two or more] people. That’s just one example of where drones are intended to be used quite liberally if law enforcement has its way.”

Keith Johnson is an independent journalist and the editor of “Revolt of the
Plebs,” an alternative news website at

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