Virginia Set to Become First State to Pass Statewide Limitation on Drone Use

Governor Proposes Limited Amendments to Two-Year Moratorium on Drones

Richmond, VA – Governor Bob McDonnell last night proposed limited amendments to legislation that called for a two-year moratorium on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, by law enforcement and regulatory agencies in the Commonwealth thereby assuring that Virginia will become the first state in the nation to enact a statewide restriction on the use of drones.

“This is an important first step in assuring all Virginians that we have reasonable rules in place that will govern the deployment of drones over the Commonwealth,” said Delegate Ben Cline, author of the moratorium legislation.  “I look forward to working with the Governor and all interested parties during the moratorium to draft a law that protects Virginians’ privacy, and includes reasonable limits on the government’s use of drones without warrants,” he added.

“The moratorium will allow us time to achieve our long term goals of assuring that the public has a say in whether drones are used in their localities or across the state, providing the public with ongoing information about how drones are used, protecting against the collection and storage of data on innocent people, and prohibiting the use of weaponized drones in Virginia, period,” said Del. C. Todd Gilbert, who partnered with the ACLU of Virginia on a regulatory bill announced last summer.

“I am pleased that, as of April 3rd, Virginia will become the first state in the nation to pass a statewide limitation on drone use.  I encourage the Governor to take the lead in assuring that long term rules are put in place to protect privacy and ensure that warrants are required before drones can be used in surveillance of our homes, businesses and farms,” said Sen. Don McEachin, who carried the Senate version of the regulatory bill that was amended to become a two year moratorium bill.

The moratorium legislation, as submitted to the Governor, had the following features: 1) a two year moratorium on the use of drones by law enforcement and regulatory agencies; 2) a prohibition on the use of weaponized drones; 3) an exception to the moratorium that allows the use of unweaponized drones in search and rescue, and where Amber Alerts (children), Senior Alerts (older adults) or Blue Alerts (police) are activated; and 4) an exception to the moratorium that allows the National Guard to use drones as needed to maintain readiness for its federal mission but not for any law enforcement activity.

McDonnell’s amendments specify that the moratorium does not apply to institutions of higher education or other research institutions engaged in research and development of drone technology and include an additional exception for drone use in, and training for, emergency situations.

“We look forward to working with Delegates Cline and Gilbert, Senator McEachin, and others to enact a law that embodies the principles we advocated last summer,” said Claire Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia.  “Ultimately, we need legislation that includes a warrant requirement, addresses privacy concerns, assures public oversight of any use of drones, imposes image retention restrictions, bans the use of all weaponized drones, and enacts policies regarding auditing and effectiveness tracking.”

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.

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