Drone Bans In States Attempt To Balance Economic Opportunities And Civil Liberties

Lawmakers Take Steps To Protect Drone Economies

The introduction of legislation Wednesday to ban drone use in Kansas has raised concerns over the potential impact of a ban on the state's economy, a subject that has been debated in several other Plains states also considering such bans.

The Kansas drone ban bill, introduced by Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco), would prohibit law enforcement from using drones in the state without a warrant, which is similar to measures pending in a several other states. The bill's scope has raised concerns that it could end the drone pilot training program at Kansas State University in Salina as well as other drone training and manufacturing industries in the state. Similar bills pending in North Dakota and Oklahoma -- where aerospace industries and aviation education programs have thrived -- have incorporated exemptions into the text.

Kansas and North Dakota are among the states competing to be one of six federal test centers for drones.

"We would have a more difficult time with winning the test center," Kansas state Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told The Huffington Post. "We would have more difficulty in drawing businesses here to construct these systems. We would have difficulty drawing students here to complete the degree program. Passing a bill like this would not be helpful."

Couture-Lovelady told HuffPost that he plans to sit down with Claeys to devise language that would not harm the training program and the state's drone economy. He said he is concerned primarily about their threat to civil liberties and the potential use of drones for domestic spying. The only exemption currently in the Kansas bill [PDF] allows drones to combat "a high risk of a terrorist attack" in Kansas, as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.

"I am all for them being used for legal means," he said. "I don't want them to be used to spy on citizens without a warrant."

The proposed North Dakota and Oklahoma bills have included exemptions for the use of drones for training and research purposes, along with a number of other exemptions not in the current Kansas bill. These include using drones to find missing persons and armed suspects, in the case of natural disasters, and on the Canadian border. North Dakota state Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck), the bill's sponsor, said the exemptions were built in to balance legitimate needs and civil liberties, adding that economic issues do not take precedence.

"The bill should stand on its own two feet with regards to civil liberties, and it should not take into account economic activity," Becker told HuffPost. "It is a bad precedent to say we will judge how we will protect our civil liberties based on whether it is financially advantageous or not."

Becker said he's concerned about county sheriffs in his state who have indicated a desire to use drones in law enforcement, but he also said that he can see a role for drone training and research in North Dakota. The University of North Dakota has a drone pilot training program and has been working on drone research.

"With it being a new technology, it seems pretty hard on how you can implement it and be adept with using it if you never train, test or research," he said.

The North Dakota bill has passed the state House, while the Oklahoma bill has passed a legislative committee.

Couture-Lovelady told HuffPost that he would be willing to include other exemptions, including those for missing persons and to help in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Courture-Lovelady did stress, however, that the use of drones in the event of a natural disaster would still need to protect civil liberties.

"Look at Hurricane Katrina, where they were going door to door taking away individuals' guns," he said. "That's when you need them most, to defend yourself when government is not there. In a crisis, the government tends to jump too far in what they seem to think is right for the people."

While stressing that he does not want to use drones for domestic spying, Claeys said that drones could benefit his state.

"We need to embrace this technology because we are at the forefront of it," he said. "We don’t want to make it seem like it is something to be scared of and afraid of."

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