Battle over drones in Va. skies

Posted at 8:23 PM, Jan 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-23 07:06:18-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)—Drones are used routinely in wars and overseas in operations, but law enforcement would like to have access to drones for police work, and so the discussion of their use continues in the General Assembly.

Police say drones will be helpful for tracking criminals. Recently, Governor McDonnell sided with law enforcement, and said he supports officers having access to drones to increase public safety.

However, some state lawmakers are worried about privacy concerns.

Delegate C. Todd Gilbert, R-15th, does have concern about abuse of citizen privacy.

“We certainly want to get a head of that curve before there are some abuses of that information they can gather with that technology,” said Gilbert.

He is sponsoring legislation that would require police to get a warrant before deploying drones and before using any information or images of a person that were gathered by the aircraft.

However, the bill would allow exemptions for emergencies, like searching for a missing person.

Still, the American Civil Liberties Union believes the government is going too far. [BONUS: FAA forced to reveal 63 U.S. drone launch sites]

"There’s a reasonable expectation of privacy that a person at a protest or a demonstration on the Capitol has,” Hope Amezquita, ACLU spokesperson, said.

“When law enforcement is there you know that, when there's a drone up in the air who's tracking you because they think you might be doing something wrong--that's completely different and we think there should be a government track on that,” Amezquita said.

John Jones, Executive Director of the Virginia's Sheriff Association, disagrees with the legislation because already “there are cameras everywhere,” and court orders aren’t required.

“You can go on your iPad and look almost anywhere in the country now,” said Jones.

Sen. Donald A. McEachin, D-Henrico, is sponsoring similar legislation. And Republican Del. Ben Cline of Rockbridge County has submitted a bill imposing a one-year moratorium on the deployment of drones, as an alternative if the proposed regulations do not pass.

However, this legislation still has a way to go.  The bills have to survive several subcommittees before they would head to the House and Sentate floors for a full vote.