Week in Review

This week saw reports of significant acquisitions and development of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology in Turkey, Pakistan, and South Korea. While “drone” operations push on, the law is still catching up.

Meanwhile, residents near San Diego–a city generally favorable to UAV development–resist drone testing and integration into the national airspace.  Meanwhile, as reported here, the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) is shaping drone privacy policy:

ALEC is anticipating the release of model policy from its international relations and national security task force for its lawmaker members to use in regulating civilian drone technology in state legislatures across the US, according to a comment the group submitted in August to the Aerospace States Association (ASA).

The ASA in conjunction with the National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) released a list of privacy recommendations for regulating domestic unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to help standardize piecemeal bills aimed at restricting domestic drone use in state legislatures across the United States.

Legislation regulating domestic drone technology has been introduced at the federal level, in more than 40 state legislatures and in many municipalities as states prepare for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to integrate the technology into the NAS by 2015 to comply with a federal law enacted last year. Domestic drones already are being used for some commercial purposes approved by the FAA and by some law enforcement agencies under FAA guidelines. The FAA predicts tens of thousands of civilian drones, which are smaller than military drones and often can resemble model airplanes and helicopters, will be operating over US skies after UAV technology becomes fully integrated.

ALEC stated that some of the regulations being introduced in state legislatures may be too restrictive and could hurt the emerging civilian drone industry, according to its comment:

State legislators are concerned that UAV surveillance could threaten the civil liberties, especially the privacy of their constituents, so the trend in the legislatures is to err on the side of highly restrictive regulations. Unfortunately, these restrictions might ultimately prevent civilian institutions from taking advantage of UAVs as a cost-effective tool to perform their duties more efficiently during a time of shrinking state budgets. In many cases, ALEC legislators are spearheading these restrictive policies, often due to an incomplete understanding of the issues involved and UAV capabilities.

If misconceptions are not corrected in the immediate future, misguided policy will continue to proliferate throughout state legislatures, and this policy is likely to inform future national policy on domestic use of UAVs.

The ASA sought comment not only from ALEC, but from a myriad of groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group, as well as a law enforcement group.

But civil liberties groups including the ACLU and the NACDL did not endorse the privacy recommendations the ASA ultimately is urging state legislators to consider. And at least three members of the ASA’s policy committee, including its chairperson,are associated with defense contract industries such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.