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Virginia Close To Banning Government Spy Drones

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Activists warn public is being categorized as “low-grade enemy”

Steve Watson
Feb 4, 2013

Legislation to stave off the use of drones by law enforcement and government agencies in Virginia has advanced in the State Senate, as well as the House, bringing closer a two-year moratorium on the unmanned craft.

A House panel approved sending their version of the bill, HB2012 sponsored by Del. Benjamin L. Cline, to the floor by a 9-4 vote, while the Senate Courts of Justice, also endorsed the legislation Monday.

While the House bill advocates a blanket ban on the use of drones, the Senate version has an exception where missing person searches are concerned.

Delegate Todd Gilbert, who sponsored a similar drone bill last year said that strict limitations should be imposed upon the use of drones, including requiring search warrants for surveillance or collecting evidence for criminal investigations.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia noted that “All of us are about to sacrifice our privacy to this new technology.”

“The Fourth Amendment should be the floor to protect our privacy, not the ceiling.” Gastañaga added.

At the House hearing, law enforcement groups argued that warrants may not be able to be obtained in time to use the technology effectively. Russell County Sheriff’s Office said it had already purchased two drones, and argued against the introduction of stipulations.

Last year, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell described warrantless drones as “great”, citing “battlefield successes”.

“If you’re keeping police officers safe, making it more productive and saving money… it’s absolutely the right thing to do.” McDonnell said on the deployment of drones in the State.

Residents seem to disagree, particularly in Charlottesville, where the City Council is considering making the city a no-drone zone.

Over the weekend, anti-drone activists led by resident David Swanson, held a rally, complete with a giant model of a drone, to educate more people on the matter and pressure the Council to act.

“They can put drones outside our windows, drones can listen in on our phone calls, drones can spy on us in ways that will be far too tempting to any police department and they’re already openly saying that’s what they need it for,” Swanson said.

“We have police departments across the country picking up the use of drones with tear gas, with rubber bullets to control crowds,” he added. “We don’t think we need to be controlled, we think such police departments need to be controlled.”

Swanson added that the way the military uses drones overseas is a core reason to prohibit their use domestically.

“A government that would target and kill an American abroad would target and kill an American at home,” Swanson said, adding that “There’s this trend toward looking at the public as sort of a low-grade enemy.”

The anti-drone resolution will be debated at a City Council meeting tonight at 7p.m.

A new Congressional Research Service report published last week warned that drones could be used for stalking, voyeurism, and laws need to be amended to protect the rights of citizens.


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