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Localities Deal with Drones -- and the Laws that Govern Them

Muddled legislation and preemptive strikes at imagined dangers.

Who knew that frigid Minnesota would become a drone hotspot?

The state Legislature started things when it banned law enforcement and federal use of drones anywhere in the state. Then the FAA stopped an inspired plan to deliver cases of cold Lakemaid beer by drone to ice fisherman, according to NPR. Even though the flying suds deliveries were under the FAA’s 400-foot limit, commercial use of drones was verboten under article such-and-such of the something-or-other code.

And then one day in Minneapolis, those same legislators who restricted law enforcement use of unpiloted aircraft were buzzed by a drone run remotely by a high school student. Flipping through the Minnesota revised code of what not to do, they discovered the kid was completely legal. The drone wasn’t armed, so all ended well.

And Minnesota isn’t alone in its drone regulatory difficulties.

A Seattle-Times editorial decries a “muddled” piece of legislation in Olympia that restricts drone usage by law enforcement, but has “all manner of definitions, exemptions and restrictions.” The editorial goes on to say that the bill restricts drone-gathered information on such things as religion and political orientation in anticipation of “the next generation of ESP drones.”

Personal privacy has been under assault recently as technology races ahead of democratic institutions, and so legislators and regulators are rightly concerned. But should regulation of new technology such as drones come as a result of actual abuses versus be preemptive strikes at imagined future dangers?

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.