Commentary

07.24.14

Drones for all, laws for none – why Ohio needs to regulate drones before it is too late.

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If we’re keeping tabs on who has the most sleepless nights these days, my vote goes to the folks who work for the Federal Aviation Administration. In addition to the agency’s numerous other tasks, the FAA is responsible for developing regulations for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or, as they are more commonly known, drones.

Many who are waiting for the FAA are not doing so patiently or quietly.  Indeed, it seems the potential uses for drones are nearly endless and everyone has an idea. Real estate developers want to use them to map the land below. Prison officials are talking about using them for extra security. Amazon claims they will use them to deliver packages (although that announcement seemed timed more for PR at the start of the holiday shopping season than it was based in reality).

In the meantime, some are not waiting. Cleveland news recently reported about a company filming with a drone that came dangerously close to a helicopter, in violation of current FAA rules and regulations.  In June, a woman in Portland discovered a “peeping” drone just outside the window of her 26th floor apartment. Last year, a drone crashed into and became stuck in the arms of Lady Liberty, the statue on top of the courthouse in Marion.

These are but a few examples of what the FAA faces. While they are all troubling for various reasons, much of the reporting we see ignores drone use by police and government.

Here in Ohio, unlike a growing number of states, there are zero restrictions on the use of drones by law enforcement and government.  Hopefully, this will change soon. Currently, there are three different bills in the Ohio General Assembly to create state laws that would allow police to utilize this exciting new technology but not at the expense of Ohioans’ privacy. The ACLU of Ohio supports them all and is working with lawmakers to pass at least one this year.

The consequence of not passing any of them will mean the Wild West has come to the Midwest, with police and others free to fly drones when they want, where they want, for any reason or no reason whatsoever.

This can be avoided if our elected officials respond to this challenge before drones start flying around Ohio’s skies. Let’s hope they do – the alternative is unacceptable.

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