Virginia Delegate C. Todd Gilbert (R), along with the American Civil Liberties Union, on Tuesday announced legislation to regulate the use of unmanned aerial drones in the state.
“Both the ACLU and I believe, as do many Virginians across the political spectrum, that the use of drones by police and other government agencies should be strictly controlled by state laws that protect the privacy and civil rights of all Virginia residents,” Gilbert said.
“I will be introducing legislation in the 2013 General Assembly Session to i) prohibit the use of drones by law enforcement unless a warrant has been issued; ii) require that policies and procedures for the use of drones be adopted by legislative bodies in open meetings; iii) provide for public monitoring and accountability; and iv) mandate that pictures of individuals acquired by drones be destroyed unless they are part of an authorized investigation.”
This year’s Federal Aviation Administration funding bill contained provisions that made it easier for law enforcement agencies and others to operate drones within the United States. The new law requires the FAA to speed up the process by which it authorizes the use of drones. The law also requires the FAA to allow agencies to operate any drone weighing 4.4 pounds or less as long as it is operated within line of sight, during the day and below 400 feet in altitude.
The American Civil Liberties Union has warned the law could usher in an “era of aerial surveillance.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that the Fourth Amendment did not categorically prohibit warrantless aerial surveillance of private property. The cost of purchasing, operating and maintaining aircraft imposed a natural limit on aerial surveillance. With the advent of drones, however, the ACLU doesn’t see law enforcement agencies being held back by the costs.
“Delegate Gilbert is right to be concerned about the possibility that, without new laws, this new and increasingly inexpensive technology will be used in a manner that will violate the fundamental right to be free from unreasonable searches and will have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of Virginians to assemble peaceably and speak freely,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the Virginia ACLU.