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Legislative committee on drones: Yet another ALEC-inspired front for industry?

Drone 2The debate over the use of drones – especially by domestic law enforcement agencies – is an issue that’s drawing lots of attention these days as more and more citizens and public officials of all political persuasions worry about the privacy implications.

Last year, the North Carolina General Assembly considered a promising bit of legislation (”The Preserving Privacy Act of 2013”) that would have prohibited individuals and government agencies, including law enforcement, from using drones to gather evidence or other data on individuals without first obtaining a warrant that shows probable cause of criminal activity. The bill included an exception that would have allowed law enforcement to use a drone to conduct searches if the agency possesses “reasonable suspicion” that immediate action is necessary to prevent certain types of immediate harm.

Unfortunately, the bill never advanced and now things appear to be headed in a distinctly different direction. Today, the newly-formed “Legislative Research Commission Study Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems” will hold its first meeting at the General Assembly. As the committee’s charge indicates, privacy is unlikely to be at the top of the group’s agenda.

But wait, there’s more cause for concern.

An intrepid citizen journalist and friend of NC Policy Watch recently discovered some strong indications that the lawmakers running the study committee may have less-than-pure motives.

First off, it turns out that Committee co-chair, Rep. John Torbett is a Vice President at a defense contractor that makes drone operating systems and sells them to the military. How’s that for some “expertise”?

Meanwhile, committee member Rep. Tim Moffitt – one of the General Assembly’s most aggressive Tea Partiers – is, amazingly enough, co-chair of the International Relations Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That group issued a pro-drones statement last year urging ALEC to push back against “misconceptions” about drones and educate lawmakers throughout the country about the “benefits” of their use in “the domestic sphere.”

In addition and not surprisingly given ALEC’s standard practice of acting as a flack for corporations, the chair of the National Security Subcommittee of Moffitt’s Task Force is a retired Navy officer and current New Mexico State Senator whose wife (also retired Navy) was long employed at Sandia Labs a “national security” company that, according to The Guardian, has been deeply involved in developing “the next generation of drone surveillance technology.”

Given this backdrop, it should be interesting to see what happens today’s meeting. Let’s hope that it’s not a biased, pro-drone industry dog and pony show. Judging by the agenda released over the weekend, presentations from civil liberties experts and advocates are unlikely to be front and center.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the meeting will take place in a Legislative Building room not wired for audio. Maybe someone can get a drone in there to make a record and help the public keep track.

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