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ACLU Urges Governor to Sign Two-Year Moratorium on Drones

March 19, 2013


Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia sent a letter to Governor Bob McDonnell urging him to sign without amendment the drone moratorium legislation sent to his desk in February by overwhelming bi-partisan votes in the General Assembly.  The legislation calls for a two-year moratorium on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, by law enforcement and regulatory agencies in the Commonwealth and includes reasonable exceptions for the use of drones in emergency situations and by the National Guard in fulfilling its federal mission.

“Drone technology has a lot to offer society,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the Executive Director of the ACLU.  “But without new laws, we are at a great risk for government misuse and abuse of that technology.  Without a requirement that law enforcement obtain a warrant prior to beginning any surveillance or restrictions limiting data retention, our fundamental rights to privacy and free speech and association are threatened.”

“Our concern is not about whether or not the government can use drones, but how it chooses to do so,” said Gastañaga.  “The moratorium is a way to ensure that Virginia has time to institute sensible, commonplace restrictions that balance our constitutional liberties with the benefits of this technology.”

“Contrary to the claims by representatives of the drone industry, the moratorium will not hinder the Commonwealth’s economic development,” added Gastañaga.  “The moratorium prohibits drone use only by law enforcement and regulatory agencies and bans weaponized drones.  The moratorium does not limit any private development or testing of UAVs. ”

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 Delegate C. Todd 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 the companion bill introduced by Senator McEachin, 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 introduced HB 2012, which initially proposed a one-year moratorium on the use of drones without exceptions.

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 and SB 1331 was amended to mirror in many respects the House moratorium. Ultimately, both houses adopted versions of the moratorium legislation that 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.

A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the Governor can be found online at: