NC law grounds surveillance drones, but not all

A little-noted provision in North Carolina’s budget prohibits police and other government agencies from buying surveillance drones for the next two years, as state lawmakers study the balance between security and privacy.

While that should sideline plans for many agencies that would like to deploy an economical eye in the sky, exceptions are allowed and the state Department of Transportation expects it will receive one to get a drone research field off the ground in rural Hyde County.

These aren’t the airplane-sized drones that the U.S. military and intelligence services have used to seek out and kill alleged terrorists with laser-guided missiles. Instead, they are oversized model planes fitted with cameras, thermal-imaging units and global-positioning systems and often launched by hand. They can be cheaper than a helicopter to operate, so law enforcement agencies are increasingly thinking about using them over U.S. soil. But privacy concerns have brought together liberals concerned about individual freedom with tea partiers suspicious about government in urging restraint when it comes to drones.

These aren’t the airplane-sized drones that the U.S. military and intelligence services have used to seek out and kill alleged terrorists with laser-guided missiles. Instead, they are oversized model planes fitted with cameras, thermal-imaging units and global-positioning systems and often launched by hand. They can be cheaper than a helicopter to operate, so law enforcement agencies are increasingly thinking about using them over U.S. soil. But privacy concerns have brought together liberals concerned about individual freedom with tea partiers suspicious about government in urging restraint when it comes to drones.

Under the state budget law, no state or local governmental entity may buy or operate a drone “or disclose personal information about any person acquired through the operation of an unmanned aircraft system” before July 2015, unless the state’s chief information officer decides it’s needed.

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