By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
A conservative state legislator and a civil rights group want rights protections in place if and when unmanned aerial drones start patrolling from the skies over Virginia.
Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, and the American Civil Liberties Union have teamed up to craft legislation which aims to regulate the use of drones across the state. Gilbert said by phone Thursday he plans to introduce the legislation in the 2013 session of the General Assembly. As drone technology becomes less expensive and law enforcement agencies show more interest in the technology, Gilbert and the ACLU urge the state needs rules in place in advance.
"Some people are going to scoff at it because they never have thought of the notion that these types of vehicles are going to be used domestically," Gilbert said. "But I'm here to tell you that the technology is here and the domestic uses are coming and we simply wanted to try and get ahead of it and make sure that we're not reacting to already existing policies, that we are setting the policies."
Legislation would need to address what cameras on drones can view and record and how this relates to constitutionally protected activities such as rallies or speeches, or if the devices peer into the windows of private residents without a warrant, Gilbert explained.
The concern by the ACLU comes in part after Gov. Bob McDonnell expressed an openness to the domestic use of unmanned drones in Virginia, according Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the Virginia ACLU. McDonnell noted then that drones could help cut down on needed manpower.
"Obviously part of the reason why we're interested in making sure that everybody understands that they should only be used if they're carefully regulated and police officers have a warrant is in part triggered by the fact that [the] governor seemed to be giving a green light signal," Gastañaga said by phone. "One of the things that is a hallmark of new technologies is that they make possible what might previously have been too expensive or difficult."
"Drones [are] a very inexpensive way to accomplish pretty expensive surveillance at a pretty low cost and that means that people might be tempted to use them without thinking about what the policies ought to be," Gastañaga added.
The proposed legislation would prohibit the use of drones by law enforcement agencies without a warrant; require policies and procedures for the use of the devices be adopted by legislative bodies in open meetings; provide for public monitoring and accountability and mandate the pictures of people taken by drones be destroyed unless part of an authorized investigation, according to the release.
Gilbert and Gastañaga say they expect the coalition of support to grow. They acknowledged the organization and the legislator don't always see eye to eye.
"Of course the ACLU and I are at odds on issues from time to time and this represented a good chance for us to work on an issue on which we wholeheartedly agree, which is constitutionally protected rights," Gilbert said.
Neither local nor state law enforcement agencies use drones yet. But Gilbert expressed concern that some federal agencies do use drones and such practice could spread.
"This is not some unfounded theoretical concern that this may happen in the future," Gilbert said, adding that some law enforcement agencies in Virginia have looked into using drones.