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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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2/21/2013 2:15:00 PM
Will Arizona see aerial drones in the sky?

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Fearing new intrusions into privacy, two state legislators are moving to restrict how the aerial drones that have become popular in the Middle East can be used in the skies over Arizona.

Two proposals set for committee debate Wednesday would prohibit state and local law enforcement from using the unmanned aerial aircraft to gather evidence without first getting a search warrant. And both measures say that any evidence they do gather without that warrant is inadmissible in civil or criminal proceedings.

There are some technical differences, including exceptions.

But the sponsors of both say they fear this eye-in-the-sky technology is running far ahead of Arizona's existing privacy laws.

Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, sponsor of one of the measures, said many of his constituents are familiar with the drones, either personally or through the news, because of their use in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the issue took on new urgency when the Federal Aviation Administration announced earlier this month it intends to create six sites around the country to test drones. That literally brought the issue home.

In fact, Rep. Tom Forese, R-Chandler, is sponsoring a measure awaiting House floor action to push to have Arizona chosen as one of the locations.

But Forese, the sponsor of the other privacy measure, said there needs to be an understanding that with the benefits of the drones come risks.

"On one hand you have economic development,' he said.

"We're talking about millions of dollars and thousands of jobs,' Forese explained, with the FAA believing that unmanned aircraft could be the future of aviation in this country.

"On the other hand, you have significant threats to our privacy,' he said.

"I take them very seriously,' Forese continued. "We're talking about the potential to be searched without a warrant,' he said, with police "able to see into your back yard.'

His proposal, HB 2269, would allow police to use drones without a warrant in cases where the Department of Homeland Security determines there is "credible intelligence' of a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization. And the aircraft could be launched in cases where "swift action is needed' to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage of property, forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or prevent the destruction of evidence.

Forese said he is keenly aware of the bid by the state to become a drone test site, saying he is part of the "Red Team' at the Arizona Commerce Authority which tries to get all sorts of training and testing programs located here. And Forese said drones could prove useful in securing the border.

But he said legislators need to take a closer look at other uses that could intrude on individual privacy.

"Technology always brings these kinds of concerns with it,' Forese said.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said his worries go beyond misuse by police.

"I actually feel that I have a greater threat from somebody running down to Fry's Electronics and buying a $300 video helicopter and flying around my house ... than having Big Brother peeping overhead,' he said. "But I think both need to be addressed.'

At the moment, though, HB 2269 addresses only limiting law enforcement use of the drones.

That, however, is not the case with Dial's proposal. Aside from restrictions on police, HB 2574 would make it illegal for any individual to use a drone "to monitor other persons inside their homes or places of worship or within the closed confines of their property.'

House Majority Leader David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said Arizona needs to convince the federal government of the state's suitability for drone testing. He said the state has plenty of open airspace in Southern Arizona, allowing the aircraft to be operated from Fort Huachuca all the way to Yuma.

But Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, warned colleagues against letting their desire for economic development overwhelm the constitutional rights of Arizonans.

"I know we're desperate for jobs,' she said. "But I would caution (using) that as our underlying motivation for doing something that in the future would compromise our civil liberties for the sake of money.'

Gowan, however, said legislators need to understand that drones, by themselves, do not mean an automatic intrusion into privacy. He noted there already are lots of aircraft in the skies.

"We could do that right now if we wanted to take pictures of back yards,' he said.

Dial conceded the point.

"I think the difference is the camera,' he said, indiscriminately taking pictures or video.

Forese said it is up to legislators to be thinking about the impacts of these drones before they're already flying the skies of Arizona.

"Part of our job is to look into these things very, very carefully,' he said. "I think we need to make sure we strike the right balance.'

The FAA action follows a year-old Congressional mandate to find sites to test drones for military and civilian use. The ultimate goal is to allow drones into U.S. airspace currently limited to manned aircraft by 2015.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013
Article comment by: Crime Wave

The drones are already here and are small enough, and fly at an altitude that makes them almost invisible to the naked eye. These little drones are equipped with latest HD cameras that can read a license plate from outer space. Others have the ability for night vision and or infrared cameras to spot individuals behind walls or under roofs.

Big Brother is already here and it is up to us to adjust to this ever changing reality or rebel and get rid of the people in charge of this state and countries' invasion of peoples privacy. Isn't the right to privacy something the constitution is also supposed to protect?

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013
Article comment by: Yavapai County officals have already tried to use drones.

Here is the article:

I thank the people of Yavapai County that called Chip Davis to protest about these drones. More paranoia and Feed the Fear mentality of governmental officials.

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