Scary “Drones” or Annoying Neighbors with Model Airplanes?

I’ve gotten a lot of mail recently from ACLU members supporting regulation of drone use in Washington, which I support. However, I won’t support ANY bill on drones. I think the environment is more interesting than just the current ephemeral technology concern of cheap ubiquitous model airplanes. There was a bill last year on this topic that I thought could be kindly described as a mashup of the black helicopter concerns of the far right with bizarre changes to how the 4th amendment is interpreted. The process of getting to the floor at the last minute resulted in something that was anything but clear. I voted no, and the governor vetoed it in its entirety and said that folks should start over.

I think we should create standards that are technology independent and that affect things beyond just a remote-controlled flying platform for a camera. Any bill should include:

  1. Clear language that affects legal searches and privacy invasions from paparazzi or nosy neighbors. This would be independent of the manned or unmanned status of the airplane involved. I’m just as concerned about a cop in a helicopter as I am about a cop with a model airplane.
  2. Data retention standards for the results of surveillance. This would apply to traffic cameras, toll collection, private security cameras, airplanes that fly around pretending to be cell towers, actual data from cell towers, etc. The government certainly should not be building a huge database of information about our private lives that can be mined at their leisure.

We’re going to use the law that gets written here as the standard for criminal investigations for decades, and we should think about it in a rational way and work through the legal scenarios.

The work done by Gregory McNeal at the Brookings institution is interesting and could perhaps be the basis of a reasonable bill that would provide a more consistent platform for ensuring our privacy without becoming outdated in 5 years. It’s a long paper, but a summary available here ( might entice you to wade through it.


Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.