Oklahoma lawmaker partners with ACLU to plan legislation about drone usage

A remote control airplane sits on a table at the State Capitol during a committee meeting to discus concerns about the growing drone industry in Oklahoma City, Thursday September  26, 2013. Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman <strong>Steve Gooch - The Oklahoman</strong>As the industry for unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, develops, Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, is partnering with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma to plan privacy legislation about the technology.An Oklahoma lawmaker said the state needs legislation regulating the use of drones in order to protect the privacy rights of individuals.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma is teaming up with Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, a tea party conservative, to support the legislation.

A remote control airplane sits on a table at the State Capitol during a committee meeting to discus concerns about the growing drone industry in Oklahoma City, Thursday September 26, 2013. Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman Steve Gooch – The Oklahoman

Executive Director Ryan Kiesel, said that any time the government gets a “new, awesome power,” citizens should expect that power can and will be abused and should put ground rules in place before their rights are compromised.

“Oklahomans will be subject to surveillance with no notice and no cause unless this Legislature acts soon to set clear rules for when and how the government uses this technology,” said Kiesel.

Wesselhoft introduced House Bill 1556 last year in hopes of setting basic rules and guidelines for the government, law enforcement and private citizens who use unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones.

The bill received support and passed House committee, but Wesselhoft held the measure up at the request of the governor’s office, who expressed concern it may interfere with the state’s burgeoning UAV testing and development industry.

Oklahoma has been on the forefront of UAV testing in the United States in recent years. Oklahoma State University’s University Multispectral Laboratories currently operates a facility at Fort Sill where during the last year dozens of businesses have been conducting government-sponsored drone tests.

Much of the testing is done through a Department of Homeland Security program and focuses on safety and first responder applications.

Oklahoma is also one of about two dozen states to apply for a Federal Aviation Administration contract to conduct drone testing. The FAA said it will chose six states to participate by the end of the year.

“Generally speaking about unmanned aerial vehicles the governor believes they are an exciting opportunity for Oklahoma to be a leader in cutting edge research and testing,” said Alex Weintz, spokesman for the governor. “She thinks attracting UAV investors to the state will help create aerospace jobs.”

A wide range of interested parties, from ranchers hoping to use drones to monitor herds to law enforcement officials interested in their tactical applications, were present at a Thursday interim study on the topic.

Mark Woodward, public information officer for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug control, said, although Oklahoma law enforcement is not currently using drones, they are considering it.

“We’re just looking at the overall potential application for law enforcement whether it’s potential marijuana fields with armed growers to a hostage situation to serving high risk warrants,” said Woodson.

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