Several bills under consideration this year in the Virginia General Assembly would restrict the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) by government officials, banning their use in surveillance by law enforcement without a warrant based on probable cause.

House Bill 2125 (HB2125), House Bill 2077 (HB2077), and Senate Bill 1301 (SB1301) contain strong anti-drone measures to replace the two-year moratorium the state placed on the use of drones by state and local law enforcement, and in doing so became the first state in the U.S. to enact drone regulations.

HB2125 would stipulate that no law enforcement agency could utilize an unmanned aircraft system unless they first obtain a warrant. HB2125 would also make any evidence illegally obtained from a drone inadmissible in court. At the same time, it would not require a warrant for the Virginia National Guard when they use drones during certain circumstances or when used for purposes other than law enforcement such as assessing a flood or wildfire.

The bill also includes a provision banning use of any drone equipped with weapons.

SB1301 and HB2077 would make it a class 1 misdemeanor for a person to make, sell, or use a drone as a weapon or to deliver a weapon.

The two bills also include this provision:

No governmental agency or organization having jurisdiction over criminal or regulatory violations, including the Department of State Police, nor any local law-enforcement department, may procure a public unmanned aircraft system (drone aircraft) without the approval of the General Assembly or the local governing body, respectively.”

All three bills would allow public higher education institutions and other organizations to operate a drone aircraft “solely for research and development purposes.”

Such prohibitions would bring nearly all nefarious use of drones by government agencies to an end in Virginia.

Although drone use would still be permitted in specific circumstances, if passed these bills set a nearly-total prohibition on their use in areas of great concern, warrantless surveillance.

This also goes to show that often the first step towards nullifying unconstitutional federal actions, such as a two-year moratorium, doesn’t have to be a big one, as it can be accompanied by larger steps. A journey is comprised of many small steps, not one giant leap.

Tenth Amendment Center communications director Mike Maharrey has noted that bills such as this have significant ramifications at the federal level because Washington D.C. is pushing and funding drone use at the state level. He noted that the federal government serves as the primary engine behind the expansion of drone surveillance carried out by states and local communities. The Department of Homeland Security issues large grants to local governments so they can purchase drones. “Those grants, in and of themselves, represent an unconstitutional expansion of power.”

“The feds want to push these on the states, and if the states refuse, it’ll foil their plan,” he said. “They already spy on Americans so much that Rand Paul said it numbered in the ‘Gazillions’ after a secret meeting with intelligence officials. If the feds can get the states to start buying up and running drones over our cities, they’ll certainly want access to all that surveillance information in the future. It’s important that states begin drawing a line in the sand now – no aerial spying here.”

“If enough states pass bills like these, it’ll foil their plans before they ever take off.”

ACTION ITEMS

For Virginia: To support this bill, follow the steps HERE.

All Other States: Take steps to stop warrantless drone spying HERE.


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