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States consider drone bans: Overreaction or crucial for privacy rights? (+video)

Charlottesville, Va., this week passed the nation's first ban on drones, and some states are considering similar measures. But drones can also be helpful tools, experts say.

Seattle debates drone use
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As scrutiny over US drone policy abroad grows, local and state officials are considering measures to ban their use at home.

Charlottesville, Va., passed the first anti-drone law in the nation Monday, and lawmakers in at least nine states from Massachusetts to California are considering some form of legislation restricting the use of drones.

The measures are largely symbolic, because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is charged with regulating US airspace, trumping state and local authorities, experts say. They add that drones can be extraordinarily useful, from crop monitoring to water management and a whole host of emergency and life-saving functions. But politicians' concerns speak to mounting questions about just how and when such powerful technology should be used.

The perception is that “the drone program has grown with so little oversight from Congress or lawmakers" that states have to "make up the slack,” says Michael Boyle, a political scientist at La Salle University in Philadelphia who has studied the use of drones. The state and local efforts arise from “the prospect of an increasingly intrusive nanny state – and it will lead to invasions of privacy by governments, but also by organizations such as universities, some of whom have already been given permits for drones.”

But Congress has taken steps to regulate drone use in the US. In reauthorizing the FAA in 2012, Congress tasked the agency with crafting a comprehensive plan for the use of drones in US skies by 2015. According to a FAA spokeswoman, the first proposals, specifically governing the use of drones below the size of 4.4 pounds, are due to Congress by Feb. 14.

“We are extremely mindful of privacy concerns, but we are also aware of the incredible things these UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] can do,” adds the spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity under a new agency policy.

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