Virginia House of Delegates and Senate Approve Two Year Moratorium on Drones

Virginia poised to become first state to adopt legislation limiting the use of drones

Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia applauded Virginia legislators as the House of Delegates and Senate today approved by overwhelming bi-partisan votes in both houses legislation that calls for a two year moratorium on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, by law enforcement and regulatory agencies in the Commonwealth.

“We are very pleased that Virginia is the first state in which both chambers of its legislature have approved measures that limit the use of drones,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia.   “We are honored to be working with Delegate C. Todd Gilbert, Delegate Ben Cline, and Senator Donald McEachin, and we are grateful for their leadership on this precedent setting legislation.  Virginia legislators are wise to anticipate the potential negative impact on civil liberties and privacy rights unfettered access to drone technology could have and to take the additional time needed to develop sensible and reasonable policies that balance the benefit of such technology with the privacy rights of Virginians.  We hope that the Governor will agree with this approach and sign the legislation when it gets to his desk.”

“The big policy question is whether we want to live in a free society as envisioned by our Founding Fathers or an Orwellian surveillance society,” said Delegate Gilbert, who introduced HB 1616 regulating the use of drones by law enforcement and regulatory agencies.  “I’m glad to see that my colleagues agree with me in our preference for a Commonwealth that values privacy and personal freedom over Big Brother.”

“No doubt drones have amazing capabilities,” said Senator Donald McEachin, who introduced SB 1331, the senate version of a bill regulating the use of drones. “But our forefathers understood the value of our freedoms and we must weigh the technological advances against our constitutional rights.  Our neighborhoods and communities do not need and shouldn’t be subject to constant government monitoring.  I thank my colleagues for putting a hold on using this technology so that we can adequately discuss how and when we use it.”

“Without new laws, drone technology will be used in a manner that will violate the fundamental right to be free from unreasonable searches and will have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of Virginians to assemble peaceably and speak freely,” added Gastañaga.  “Virginia is right to get ahead of the use of this technology to ensure our privacy rights and to prevent the Commonwealth from becoming a surveillance state in which every individual’s actions are tracked. The moratorium will allow us to work with law enforcement and other stakeholders to adopt reasonable regulations limiting the use of drones and assuring public participation in and oversight of their use.”

In addition to the ACLU of Virginia, other organizations in support of legislation regulating the use of drones in the state include the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation, the Virginia Campaign for Liberty, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Virginia Farm Bureau, and the Virginia Poultry Federation.

The ACLU of Virginia and Del. Gilbert announced in July that we were working together on legislation to regulate the use of unmanned aerial drones in the Commonwealth.  As introduced, HB 1616 and SB 1331 took a regulatory approach that addressed privacy concerns and the need for public oversight of any use of drones and included usage restrictions, image retention restrictions, public notice requirements, and policies regarding auditing and effectiveness tracking.

Delegate Ben Cline also introduced HB 2012, which proposed a moratorium on the use of drones.  As the legislative process moved forward, it became apparent that a moratorium permitting careful consideration of all of the privacy and other interests at stake was a reasonable legislative policy choice at this time.  HB 1616 was incorporated into HB 2012 which passed the House of Delegates on a vote of 83-16.  SB 1331 was amended to mirror in many respects the House moratorium and was passed by the Senate on a vote of 36-2.

The news of the Virginia General Assembly approving the moratorium on drones comes just one day after the Charlottesville City Council adopted what is believed to be the country’s first anti-drone resolution adopted by a locality.

ACLU of Virginia Contact: Claire G. Gastañaga, Executive Director, 804-644-8022