Law enforcement have been “borrowing” UAVs from federal agencies, including DHS, at an alarming rate

States Trouncing Drones 42 to 8 – But Are We Winning?

By —— Bio and Archives--February 13, 2014

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In what appears to be a victory for privacy advocates, a significant majority of American states now have pending bills or approved legislation restricting the use of UAVs against citizens.  According to a recent article from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  42 states have or are considering drone privacy statutes and 8 have rejected, or show no signs of movement on the issue.

Not surprisingly, states who are balking have an historically cozy relationship with the federal government and its departments.  Those with no current action on anti-drone bills are Maine, Connecticut, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.  Of these, six rank at the top of U.S. states which over a twenty-year time period received more in taxpayer dollars than they sent back to D.C. 

North Dakota, where a jury recently affirmed a county sheriff’s right to use UAVs in the apprehension of a suspected criminal,  is one of the states still arguing privacy rights legislation regarding drones. Its challenges are representative of those faced by other reticent legislatures, particularly with regard to vital government inputs. The state has a long history of significant defense spending going into the two air force bases and related grants to statewide universities.  Grand Forks Air Force Base, once a possible target for closure, transitioned in 2011 from air refueling tankers to one of the first UAV bases, and is positioning itself to be a hub in the “global vigilance mission.”

Among the states still dragging on drone legislation, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming and Maine all benefited greatly from Cold War spending, but have felt the pain of consolidation and movement within the military. Last year, Governor Paul LePage of Maine vetoed an anti-drone bill sent to him, citing the need to keep the state open for UAV related industry. When Loring Air Force Base in that state closed in 1991, the affected region lost 75% of its population. Nearby Connecticut has been sitting out the debate, though just this week state lawmakers began looking at proposals concerning drone use. Recently the use of a media drone at a news scene in Hartford stirred debate across the country over commercial versus military and law enforcement use of UAVs.

The proximity of government in the lives of voters may also factor heavily in law maker hesitation. Here, North Dakota is representative of other states, where as many as 1 in 3 residents appear to rely on government spending for all or part of their household incomes. According to job reports, of the nearly 460,000 working in the state in late 2013, almost 20 percent worked directly for the government, with another 15% employed in occupations such as education, healthcare and information services where in recent years significant funding is provided by taxpayers. The state also has a high percentage of older folks receiving federal benefits. North Dakota State University reported last year that 25% of households include at least one senior citizen.

There is also the pressure from law enforcement who want to use drones in order to avoid escalated confrontations. Again, North Dakotans reflected popular support for their right to do so when a Border Security drone was called in to assist in the aforementioned arrest of Rodney Brossart and his sons. The farmer was armed when he refused to let the local sheriff investigate claims of cattle stealing and even hardcore conservatives in the region were irritated by the criticism from outsiders. They argued the sheriff was right to avoid a deadly conflict where guns were drawn and cited the 1983 case of Gordon Kahl, a tax-evader who shot two U.S. Marshalls when they attempted to arrest him after a meeting in the small town of Medina.

Despite success in bringing the issue under legislative review, there are plenty of reasons to keep leaning on state law makers regarding drones, say legal experts. The Tenth Amendment Center warns that the Department of Homeland Security appears to be baiting the states with grants for UAVs, with a plan to later dump financial responsibility onto state taxpayers.

The ACLU reports local law enforcement have been “borrowing” UAVs from federal agencies, including DHS, at an alarming rate. They say tighter restrictions are necessary before 2015, when the FAA is required to have established regulations for the widespread use of drones in American air space.

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Gretchen Olson -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Gretchen Olson is a writer, and business owner an online information resource. She works from her home outside of Chicago.

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