KENTUCKY (9/8/13) - Discussion on how the use of unmanned aircraft systems or UAS, often called drones, are impacting or could impact civil liberties inside the U.S. was held by the House Judiciary Committee before a full audience on Aug. 21.
No action was taken at the meeting.
The testimony follows a mandate issued by Congress in 2012 that requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to open up more domestic airspace to drones by 2015. It also follows the April pre-filing of legislation by State Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, that would prohibit domestic drones from being used to gather evidence or other information in Kentucky, except under a search warrant or for purposes of military training. That bill will likely be considered during the 2014 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly which starts in January.
Domestic drones that carry a “lethal payload”, such as a missile, would be specifically prohibited inside Kentucky airspace under St. Onge’s bill.
Those testifying on the issue before the committee included representatives from the ACLU, law enforcement, the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) industry, academic researchers, and a retired U.S. military officer. The first to speak was Kate Miller with the ACLU of Kentucky, who said the ACLU is not opposed to drones but does believe that “strict controls are needed to guide law enforcement.
“Drones open up a world of exciting possibilities. There are very many private, public and commercial uses for drones,” such as fire control, monitoring crops, and search and rescue, said Miller. “But we also believe drones raise the specter of Big Brother in the way few technologies have before.”
She said the ACLU supports use of domestic drones by law enforcement—with court oversight—in times of emergency, but opposes “indiscriminate use” of drones.
At least seven states including Tennessee, Virginia, and Illinois—all which border Kentucky—have already adopted some kind of drone legislation, according to the ACLU. It is estimated that some type of drone legislation has been filed in over 40 states to date.
FAA rules regarding domestic drones are very specific, according to Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International government affairs manager Mario Mairena who also testified on the issue. Mairena said an unmanned aerial system, or “UAS,” must be under 25 pounds, be certified by the FAA, fly below 400 feet, and only be used during daylight hours per FAA rules. He said polls show a majority of Americans support UAS use in specific situations.
A recent Monmouth University polls shows 83 percent of Americans support the use of UAS for search and rescue operations and 62 percent support its use for border patrol operations, said Mairena. However, most use of UAS in the U.S. currently is focused on agriculture, he said.
Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs Executive Director Col. David Thompson (Ret.) said UAS technology was used “to great effect” by the military in Iraq. It could also help the U.S. domestically by helping to fight fires, manage wildlife, reduce costs and increase yields in agriculture, and assist in police work, said Thompson.
Use of UAS in U.S. law enforcement is now in its infancy, according to Baltimore County, MD Police Department Captain Don Roby, a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Aviation Committee who also spoke. Roby said only four law enforcement agencies nationally have federal Certificates of Authorization to use UAS, he said. Not one of the four is in Kentucky.
I will have more to share with you from our legislative committee work next week. Until then, enjoy the end of summer.
Rep. Brent Yonts
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