The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday announced six states, chosen from 25 applicants, that will be test sites for integrating drones into domestic airspace: Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia (the Alaska test site plans to also test drones in Hawaii and Oregon, and Virginia will also be testing drones in New Jersey). The chosen test sites belie one of the biggest arguments some governors, state legislators, and industry lobbyists have been using against enacting privacy protections for domestic drone use: that passing privacy legislation would undermine a state’s chances of being selected as a test site and hurt its economy.
As we’ve pointed out in state after state, the FAA never suggested that being a test site and enacting privacy protections were a zero-sum game. And now that the test sites have been announced, we know that the industry arguments were unfounded. Two of the test sites, Texas and Virginia, have enacted drones legislation, providing some privacy protections from unfettered law enforcement use of drones. And, Oregon, where Alaska will also be testing its drones, has one of the more inclusive drone privacy laws in the nation.
The FAA test sites have been chosen, but a number of other states, like Utah, are still hoping to get the drones industry to test in their states under FAA waivers or certificates of authorization. We hope that any lawmakers who hear the argument that they can’t enact privacy legislation in 2014 because it will undermine the industry will call that bluff.
In the meantime, the skies are about to get busier. It’s time our state legislatures got busier too, starting with Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Hawaii, and New Jersey, the last of which still has a few days left of its 2013 (yes, you read that right) legislative session to get its drone bill through its Assembly. It now has even more reason to push the bill over the finish line.
Someday in the not too distant future, drones may be commonplace in our skies. Before they are, it is incumbent on state legislators in the test site states–and other states as well–to put in place a system of rules to ensure that we can take advantage of drone technology without becoming a “surveillance society” in which every movement is tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the authorities.