Economy vs. Ethics: How States are Wrestling with the Drone Explosion

Mike O'Brien

In 2015 drones will be sharing American skies with commercial and military aircraft, bringing a much-needed boost to many areas and sectors of the economy.

The Federal Aviation Authority estimates there will 7,500 small drones will be in the U.S. by 2018 and some analysts believe up to 100,000 jobs could be created.

Despite their many potential uses, the deployment of drones brings with it a host of privacy and security concerns.

Related: Data Centers: Where are we vulnerable? Mitigating Risk and Managing Security

They are associated first and foremost with spying and killing and lawmakers across the country are wrestling with the idea of living among a proliferation of unmanned flying machines.

But with the prospect of employment in areas such as manufacturing, training, and research and development, states are anxious not to miss out on the chance to generate wealth in their regions.

Lawmakers are now working on the careful balance of making their states open to drones while also protecting citizens’ civil liberties.

The FAA will by the end of 2013 authorize six test sites around the country where unmanned aircraft can fly free as researchers and manufacturers develop the technology, reports.

Fifty applicants from 37 states have applied to host a test site, mindful of the investment dollars that will be pouring in.

Related: Robots, Lasers and Drones! The Tools of Modern Warfare

At the same time, many states are currently drawing up drone restriction legislation.

Virginia’s legislature last month brought in a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by law enforcement agencies, with Idaho following up with similar rulesa few days later.

Florida has signed a drone bill into law and 34 other states are working on the issue. Fearful that such restrictive legislation might cost jobs, the North Dakota Senate rejected a bill that was passed by the state’s House of Representatives.

The bill would have banned police use of drones without a warrant and stated that images collected by drones would have to be destroyed within 90 days

Democratic Senator Mac Schneider argued that drone legislation is unnecessary because the 4th Amendment protects from privacy invasions.

Related: U.S. Cities: Cameras Everywhere, Drones All Around

He told Time: "Now that we’ve defeated that bill in the Senate, it sends a clear message to the FAA that North Dakota’s open for business and wants to continue to play an important role in developing the UAS industry.

"The choice wasn’t between economic development and our civil rights. I just don’t think the legislature needs to be singling out this one particular technology for heightened scrutiny when the courts have proven themselves capable of dealing with technological change within the context of our right against unreasonable searches and seizures."

Some states are handling such a sensitive subject with legislation that covers all sides. California, for example, is currently assessing a privacy bill to protect against drone surveillance, along with a bill that would provide tax breaks to drone manufacturers who establish a business in the state.

But while states weigh their options, one thing is for certain: the arrival of drones is inevitable and this year looks to be a critical one in the industry’s development.

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