ACLU of Ohio Policy Coordinator Melissa Bilancini recently went under cover at the 2nd Annual Ohio UAS Conference. This is an account of what she learned…

Thus far, my cover is holding.

Conference attendees are really surprised that a social worker would have an interest in drones. I’ve been able to deflect most of their questions by asking my own.

In my last entry, I mentioned some of the variations in drone technology. Since then, I’ve learned more about their uses.

The industry really tries to differentiate between military use “in theater” (in a battle) and civil use. The military uses drones primarily for two purposes: intelligence gathering/surveillance (such as the Global Hawk) and targeted strikes (such as the Reaper, which is larger and more heavily armed than the Predator).

However, it’s difficult to see this difference when Predator drones (the “less heavily armed” drones that have been used for targeted killings) are being used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to patrol the U.S./Mexico border.

Today I attended a panel on the use of drones by first-responders (police and fire departments). The three police officers explained that their departments use drones primarily for search and rescue and tactical support for SWAT teams.

One of the most interesting parts of the presentation was a tense disagreement between two presenters over requiring warrants prior to drone deployment. One officer said that it was too difficult to get warrants for SWAT support. The other disagreed – stating that they’ve not had problems doing so.

I found this helpful, because I think a warrant requirement is necessary in order to provide a check on police. (I mean, aside from the Constitutional arguments, if officers can use a drone whenever they want, what’s to keep them from using drones to spy on spouses or neighbors – or complete strangers?)

Besides their use for first responders, the non-military-use folks were excited about the potential for drone use in precision agriculture (farm management that utilizes technology to optimize yield). There’s also a huge opportunity for drone use to map everything from property lines to the amount of minerals extracted from a mine.

Tomorrow I’ll participate in training on drone standards and regulations. I know that an 8 a.m. discussion about regulations sounds a bit dry, but I’m really looking forward to being able to talk with experts.