Editorial: Growing Drone Use Needs Regulating

Drones have become a normal presence in daily life. Many of us have noticed small drones flying above empty fields, suburban neighborhoods, and even city blocks. The sight of one overhead can range from barely noticeable to extremely intrusive.

We assume most of the little flying machines are harmless. But that’s the thing. When you see one, you don’t know who is controlling it or if it’s equipped with a video camera or microphone. The operator could be a 10-year-old kid having fun, a real estate agent checking out property, or someone with far more sinister motives checking out a sunbathing neighbor or planning a robbery. You just don’t know.

The Defense Department has the same concerns and has decided that it’s not taking any chances. The Pentagon has issued formal guidance to 133 U.S. military installations on how to deal with drones they deem a potential threat.

In a statement released Monday, Defense Department spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said, “Protecting our force remains a top priority. That is why the Department of Defense issued very specific, but classified, policies that detail how DoD personnel may counter the unmanned aircraft threat to personnel, vital facilities, and critical assets.”

Davis said the policy itself is not new, as it is based on language enacted in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. “The NDAA is the basis for most of this,” he told Military.com . “The newness of it is that we’re providing guidance to the local installation commander(s) to craft their public affairs guidance.”

The military’s rules of engagement for an installation to follow when a drone enters its airspace may be classified but guidance on how bases should communicate the policy to local communities is not. Military installations “retain the right of self-defense when it comes to UAVs or drones operating over (them).” Possible responses include shooting them down, disabling, destroying, and tracking them. The drones may also be confiscated.

Many states, including Virginia, have also begun to enact regulation as to the use of drones. As of July 1, it is a class 1 misdemeanor in Virgina to use unmanned aircraft systems (and other electronic devices) “to trespass upon the property of another for the purpose of secretly or furtively peeping, spying, or attempting to peep or spy into a dwelling or occupied building located on such property.” And SB873 specifies that a fire chief or other officer in charge of a fire department has authority to maintain order at an emergency incident, including the immediate airspace.

These laws are a start, but as it stands now, policy guidance on the rapidly expanding use of drones has been compared to the Wild West. More guidance and regulations are needed. American civilians are right to have the same expectations of privacy that the military does. [Click for More]