ACLU activists make the case for reasonable drone regulation

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A group of enthusiastic ACLU-WA activists met at the State Capitol on Tuesday to encourage legislators to support  House Bill 1771 and Senate Bill 6172 calling for reasonable, common sense limits to drone use by state and local government agencies.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are inexpensive platforms that can be used to conduct a variety of surveillance activities – surveillance that without this technology would be expensive, manpower-intensive, and would often require a search warrant.  The use of domestic drones got a boost last year when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorized airspace for the use of drones by government agencies.        

The bills seek to establish a statewide floor of regulation to help ensure individual privacy rights and reduce the likelihood of abuse of this game-changing technology by government agencies eager to take advantage of drone capabilities.

Approximately two-dozen activists representing various legislative districts crowded the Cherberg conference room to hear briefings about the bills by ACLU-WA Field Director Liezl T. Rebugio and Legislative Associate Chris Kaasa. Legislative Director Shankar Narayan then briefed the activists about the movement of the bills through the House and Senate and the importance of getting legislation passed this session. After the briefings, activists broke into groups by district, talked in more detail about the bills, and planned their meetings with legislators and staff later in the afternoon.

Pat Gallagher from the 36th district in Seattle met with his state senator, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a co-sponsor of SB 6172.  Gallagher pointed out that there are currently no restrictions on how state and local governments can use drone technology and there is ample federal funding for local law enforcement to purchase and use drones now. Sen. Kohl-Welles agreed that timely legislation was needed before large numbers of drones started flying over the state unregulated and was encouraged that SB 6172 had passed unanimously through the Law and Justice Committee.

Activists spent the afternoon meeting with their representatives and dropping off ACLU-WA information packets at legislative offices.  The activists reported encouraging receptions from lawmakers who were interested in hearing details about the legislation.  Currently the bills are receiving wide bipartisan support from both chambers of the legislature.