End the Lie

Charlottesville, VA becomes first city in U.S. to pass resolution against drone use

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By End the Lie

The Charlottesville, VA City Hall (Image credit: Bob Mical on Flickr)

The Charlottesville, VA City Hall (Image credit: Bob Mical on Flickr)

According to reports, just after 11 p.m. Monday, February 4, the City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia passed what is likely the first resolution against drone use in the United States.

This comes as a drone moratorium is moving forward in the Virginia state legislature and a Department of Justice white paper was leaked revealing some of the troubling reality behind the Obama administration’s drone assassination program.

While this victory is a relatively small one, there is anti-drone legislation in the works nationwide as the domestic drone boom continues unabated. Now colleges and universities are offering more drone piloting programs to keep up with the increasingly common use of drones domestically by entities ranging from the military and law enforcement to the Department of Homeland Security to the National Guard and more.

The wording of the resolution passed in Charlottesville comes largely from a Rutherford Institute model resolution, according to David Swanson, the author of the draft that first appeared on the City Council’s official agenda.

The version of the resolution that passed included an endorsement on the two-year moratorium on drones (detailed in the article linked above) and an amendment committing Charlottesville to not use drones either for surveillance or assault.

Given that the Virginia governor has openly called for drones to be used in the state, citing the alleged success of drones in the battlefield, this widespread anti-drone activity in Virginia is especially encouraging.

The resolution also “calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court,” which is especially interesting given that the military hands over surveillance from drones to law enforcement.

The resolution continues by pledging “to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones.”

The resolution passed by a 3-2 vote with all of the council members who put the item on the agenda voting in favor of the resolution.

Dave Norris, Dede Smith and Satyendra Sing Huja voted in favor of the resolution, but according to Swanson, “ Norris and Smith favored banning the City from purchasing drones, but Council Member [and Vice Mayor, according to US News] Kristin Szakos argued that there might be a positive use for a drone someday, such as for the fire department.  Kathy Galvin joined Szakos in voting No.”

Dede Smith spoke out against drones in general, according to US News, saying that drones are “pretty clearly a threat to our constitutional right to privacy.”

“If we don’t get out ahead of it to establish some guidelines for how drones are used, they will be used in a very invasive way and we’ll be left to try and pick up the pieces,” Smith said.

One unfortunate aspect is that “Charlottesville’s City Council ended up not including the section in my draft that instructed the federal government to end its practice of extrajudicial killing,” according to David Swanson.

“But there was no discussion on that point, and several other sections, including one creating a local ordinance, were left out as well,” Swanson wrote.

According to Smith, the problem with that was that “we don’t own the air.” Swanson counters in his article, “we should.”

Swanson points to draft state legislation in Oregon that is attempting to do just that.

He is clearly encouraged by the passage of this resolution, pointing out, “In the past, Charlottesville has passed resolutions that have inspired other localities and impacted federal and state policies.  Let us hope this one is no exception.”

It seems that Smith agrees with Swanson in saying, “With a lot of these resolutions, although they don’t have a lot of teeth to them, they can inspire other governments to pass similar measures.”

“You can get a critical mass and then it does have influence,” Smith continued. “One doesn’t do much, but a thousand of them might. We want this on [federal and state lawmakers’] radars.”

Norris said Charlottesville has a “long tradition of promoting civil liberties,” according to US News.

“It’s just part of our culture here,” Norris said.

The move has already received praise from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

“[The] Charlottesville resolution demonstrates that people care about protecting their civil liberties and Fourth Amendment rights and are willing to devote the time necessary to closely examine this issue,” said Amie Stepanovich, a lawyer with EPIC, according to US News.

“Lawmakers should be looking at [drone privacy] issues now in order to ensure that there are safeguards in place to protect individual privacy from these invasive technologies,” Stepanovich said.

EPIC recently held a meeting in Washington, D.C. on drones which produced some encouraging results including Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, saying that he thinks the House Judiciary Committee could move to regulate the use of drones for surveillance in the U.S.

Yet the pro-drone sentiment is still strong despite the horrors we see abroad. For instance Charlottesville Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos, who voted against the resolution, said that she “can imagine ways in which drones might be used for positive things,” adding that the move was a premature one, according to US News.

“I think drones have been used for bad things, but it’s like banning airplanes because they can drop bombs,” Szakos claimed.

“At this point, the city isn’t even talking about using drones. It seems premature to me to ban them altogether,” she said, according to US News.

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One Response to Charlottesville, VA becomes first city in U.S. to pass resolution against drone use

  1. Stjeansmythe February 5, 2013 at 8:06 PM

    Use of drones is surprisingly widespread on the Northern Border with Canada. From New Hampshire in the East through Watertown, NY, and again from North Dakota through Montana and Idaho into eastern Washington, drones are dispatched to do “surveillance” in the airspace. Aside from wondering what is so menacing about those Canadian farmers on the border, the big risk is that these drones are operating in exactly the airspace used by smaller private aircraft [between 500 feet and 2,500 feet off the ground]. Remembering that the camera on the drone is pointing downward, nobody drone-wise is looking out for collision avoidance. It is only a matter of time before a drone and a light aircraft collide, which will have disastrous consequences. Not to worry; the families of the dead will take comfort in knowing that their loved ones’s lives were sacrificed by the Government in the fight against Canadian infiltration. Dangerous people, those Canucks.


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