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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Update: Virginia Legislature Passes Partial Drone Ban, but Governor Debating Veto

    We’ve discussed the increasing focus on the issue of use of aerial drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, “UAVs”) to conduct surveillance in the United States. See a recent post for more on moves in state and federal legislatures concerning privacy and restrictions on such domestic use of drones.

    Now, the Washington Times reports that the Virginia legislature has sent legislation, House Bill 2012 “” (Virginia pdf; archive pdf), imposing a two-year partial ban (until July 1, 2015) on the use of drones for domestic surveillance to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) for signature or veto:

    Some Virginia lawmakers sought to pass a bill this year explicitly prohibiting state and local law enforcement from using them for warrantless surveillance, but the legislature chose instead to study the issue for two years and think through any possible restrictions. [...]

    The potential use of drones in Virginia has drawn opposition from groups ranging from the Tea Party Patriots Federation to the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

    The assembly’s bill would outlaw general government use of drones, except for National Guard training and for emergency purposes, such as searching for missing children or seniors. [...]

    Supporters say they could prove a less-expensive alternative to manned aircraft. Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, praised the technology last year as a possible means for fighting crime and spotting traffic jams, calling it “absolutely the right thing to do.”

    Politico reports that McDonnell has not decided whether he will support the two-year partial ban, which supporters say will allow time for officials to study the costs and benefits (financial, privacy, civil liberties, security and more) of the use of drones for domestic surveillance:

    Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has not decided whether he will sign a bill barring state and local agencies from using drones for two years — the first legislation of its kind in the country that passed through the state’s General Assembly Tuesday with bipartisan support. [...]

    That decision could come by the end of the month, at a time when drone use has been pushed to the front of the national dialogue. President Barack Obama has been criticized following the release of a memo earlier this week indicating that the government is using drones overseas to kill Americans who are linked to terrorism.

    McDonnell, a Republican, told Washington-based radio station WTOP in May that he supported local police agencies using military-style drones for law enforcement.

    “I think it’s great; I think we ought to be using technology to make law enforcement more productive, cuts down on manpower and also more safe, that’s why we use it on the battlefield,” McDonnell said at the time. “If you’re keeping police officers safe, making it more productive and saving money … it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

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