A last minute push is on by a coalition of law enforcement groups and economic development organizations to convince Governor Bob McDonnell to soften a bill passed by the General Assembly that puts a two year moratorium on the use of unmanned ariel vehicles or drones by the government.
The technology is still emerging, but libertarian groups are concerned that current laws need to be updated to address the potential. They are hoping this two year cooling period will allow lawmakers to come up with a sensible policy that will allow for their use, without threatening privacy.
But law enforcement groups want the flexibility to use drones during that two year period in the event of an emergency. They say the process the bill calls for to make the use available is cumbersome.
We broke down the debate for NBC12 News at 11 on Friday. Here is our story:
RICHMOND (WWBT)- In the moments after Trooper Junius A. Walker was shot on Thursday, a mad dash commenced in search of the suspect.
It was a search, aided by aircraft. That aircraft was manned, but in the near future it could be handled by un-manned aircraft, also known as drones.
A new bill just passed by the General Assembly has law enforcement concerned that the technology could be put out of reach. This bill, which the governor has yet to sign, puts a two year moratorium on the use of drones outside of a special class of emergency.
The trooper shooting would've probably qualified for the use of a drone, but law enforcement advocates claim the process is too cumbersome to be effective.
In an emergency situation, like the hunt for a potential cop killer, decisions must be made in an instant.
"It would require time," said Jeff Jones the Executive Director of the Virginia Sheriff's Association. "Time we might not have in the event of an emergency that might be going down."
If Governor Bob McDonnell signs this bill, officers would need approval to put a drone in the air, approval that may not come quick enough.
It is one example of the complications that come with drone technology. Its benefits can be so positive, but it's potential for misuse is limitless, especially in the hands of a powerful government.
"The technology is allowing invasions of our privacy and intrusions of the government in ways that we never could've contemplated," said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the Executive Director of the Virginia ACLU. She told NBC12 that last fall, before she helped craft the bill that puts the two year moratorium on the government use of the technology.
That bill now sits on Governor McDonnell's desk, and groups like the Virginia Sheriff's Association want it changed.
"We want to be there for public safety and for officer safety," said Jones.
But on the ACLU web site Gastañaga counters that law enforcement turned down the chance to help put the bill together.
She claims all her group wants is "the judicious and responsible use of" the technology. Jones agrees the issue should be studied, but is hopeful that the governor considers a short term fix.
"They are complicated legal issues that can be worked out over the two years we just want to be able to use it in emergency," he said.
read and see the rest of the story on NBC12.com
Governor McDonnell is currently mum on the topic. His office said he is reviewing the bill.
You can read Gastañaga full blog post on the issue on the ACLU web site.
A full press release from the Virginia Technology Alliance on Public Safety, which also addresses the potential economic development concerns can be found after the jump.
NEW COALITION PROMOTES INNOVATION, JOBS AND SAFETY
Virginia Poised to Attract FAA Test Site
RICHMOND – March 4, 2013 – The Virginia Technology Alliance for Public Safety (VATAPS) announced its official launch as a grassroots coalition promoting the economic development and public safety benefits of new technology in the field of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The organization will highlight new jobs and investments associated with encouraging responsible research, development and testing of UAS in the Commonwealth.
“This is an opportunity to bring jobs, innovation and more technology to Virginia at a time when the federal government is cutting other programs,” says Michael Toscano, president & CEO for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) in Arlington and member of the alliance. “These are good paying jobs that will save lives, save money as well as spawn research programs at Virginia’s colleges and universities.” A soon to be released study conducted by AUVSI indicates Virginia could see 2,380 new jobs and $460 million in economic investment if the state embraces programs to research, develop and test UAS. The study indicates many of those jobs would pay starting salaries in the $55,000 range.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced plans to designate six test sites for development of UAS. Virginia is currently pursuing an FAA designation as part of a coalition lead by Virginia Tech.
The formation of VATAPS follows the passage of legislation by the Virginia General Assembly in the form of House Bill 2012 (HB2012) and Senate Bill 1331 (SB 1331), which place a two year-moratorium on the use of UAS. The legislation allows an exception for search and rescue operations, but fails to recognize other public safety applications and embrace the economic benefits of promoting responsible UAS- related research and development in the state.
“The advantages and uses of unmanned aircraft systems for public safety are greatly misunderstood and often falsely associated with military drones,” says Robert Fitzgerald, president of Bosh Global Services in Newport News and member of the alliance. “We are developing small, lightweight UAS that can aid in assessing natural disasters, fires, hazardous spills and other dangerous situations remotely without putting additional lives at risk.”“The safety of public officers in Virginia and across the country is of paramount importance. There are examples where officers have been endangered but could have been protected by the use of UAVs,” says John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs Association and member of the alliance. “Any Virginia law on UAVs needs to address existing emergency situations and other non-emergency applications. It is imperative that Governor Bob McDonnell take a very close look at this issue and its implications before he agrees to sign the bill into law.
Toscano adds, “The six FAA test sites for unmanned aircraft are expected to be an economic windfall for the states that are selected. But states that are advancing overly-restrictive legislation to limit the use of this technology are hurting their chances of attracting high-quality jobs. There is no reason we cannot responsibly advance this technology while simultaneously ensuring Americans’ rights are protected. We would encourage officials in all states, and especially those seeking test sites, to work collaboratively to ensure that legislation doesn’t undermine the job creation potential of unmanned aircraft or their state’s ability to compete for a test site.”
Charter members of VATAPS include aeronautics technology companies along with public safety and law enforcement agencies. VATAPS plans to launch an educational awareness and public information campaign as it recruits additional members.