RICHMOND, VA – Virginia Delegate, C. Todd Gilbert (R) is preparing to introduce legislation aimed at imposing tight regulations on the use of unmanned aircraft in the state. The use of drones for aerial surveillance has created some unlikely alliances as conservatives like Todd are joining forces with the ACLU.
“Both the ACLU and I believe,” said Todd, “as do many Virginians across the political spectrum, that the use of drones by police and other government agencies should be strictly controlled by state laws that protect the privacy and civil rights of all Virginia residents.”
His joint statement with the ACLU added: “I will be introducing legislation in the 2013 General Assembly Session to i) prohibit the use of drones by law enforcement unless a warrant has been issued; ii) require that policies and procedures for the use of drones be adopted by legislative bodies in open meetings; iii) provide for public monitoring and accountability; and iv) mandate that pictures of individuals acquired by drones be destroyed unless they are part of an authorized investigation.” the statement reads.
The Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, has publicly endorsed the use of drones for police surveillance.During a recent interview on WTOP radio, McDonnell stated:“I think it’s great. I think we ought to be using technology to make law enforcement more productive — it cuts down on manpower in the air — and more safe. That’s why we use it on the battlefield.” He added, “We need to address civil liberties like privacy, but I believe if you’re keeping police officers safe, making it more productive and saving money … it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
Delegate Gilbert’s bill, which must work its way through the state legislature, outlines a number of restrictions and notices on drone use by the government and law enforcement in Virginia:
• Usage restrictions. Drones should be subject to strict regulation to ensure that their use by government, law enforcement, and private entities does not trample individual privacy rights. For example, legislation should prohibit the use of drones for indiscriminate mass surveillance or for monitoring protected First Amendment activities.
• Image retention restrictions. Images of identifiable individuals captured by aerial surveillance technologies should not be retained or shared unless there is reasonable suspicion that the images contain evidence of criminal activity or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or pending criminal trial.
• Public notice. The policies and procedures for the use of aerial surveillance technologies should be explicit, written, and public. While it is legitimate for the police to keep the details of particular investigations confidential, overall policies governing deployment of drones — including the privacy tradeoffs they may entail — are a public matter that should be subject to public oversight and accountability.
• Democratic control. Policy decisions regarding the purchase and deployment of drones should be democratically decided by appropriate legislative bodies (e.g., city councils, county boards, or the General Assembly) based on publicly available information and in open meetings — not made administratively by police departments or other law enforcement or regulatory agencies (e.g., through receipt of federal grants, purchasing decisions, or by inclusion in the general orders of law enforcement agencies).
• Auditing and effectiveness tracking. Public agencies should not invest in drones without a clear, systematic, and public examination of the costs and benefits involved. If aerial surveillance technology is deployed, independent audits should track the use of drones by all government agencies, so that all Virginians can tell generally how and how often they are being used, whether their use is consistent with the original rationale for their deployment and whether they represent a worthwhile public expenditure.