OKLAHOMA CITY —
Oklahoma can and should place reasonable privacy restrictions on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles without jeopardizing the state’s growing presence in the aerospace industry, a state legislator said Thursday during a hearing on his plan to restrict the use of drones.
Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, held an interim legislative study on the use of drones before the House Energy and Aerospace Committee.
Wesselhoft wrote a bill (HB 1556) last session to restrict the use of drones by law enforcement for surveillance on citizens without a warrant or placing weapons on the vehicles, but he agreed to stall the measure at the request of Gov. Mary Fallin, who was concerned it could affect the state’s burgeoning aerospace industry.
Wesselhoft said his bill, which also places limits on retaining data obtained from unmanned vehicles, should not be seen as a hindrance to the industry.
“We’ve heard comments from industry spokespeople that would really rather us not do anything,” Wesselhoft said at the conclusion of the hearing. “We know that’s a natural tendency. Most industries don’t want to be inhibited in any way whatsoever, but I might remind you that as legislators we are charged with the responsibility of striking a balance between technology and industry and economic development and also protecting people’s privacy rights. I’m hoping this bill will do that.”
Wesselhoft said he specifically pulled the bill because of Oklahoma’s application with the Federal Aviation Administration to become one of six test ranges that will be used to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace. Oklahoma is one of more than two dozen states that have applied to become one of the sites, and Wesselhoft said a decision is expected before the start of the 2014 legislative session in February.
“We hope that we win this application in December, and there won’t be an issue as far as advancing the bill in the next session,” Wesselhoft said.
A spokesman for Fallin said the governor also believes an agreement could be reached on the use of drone technology that doesn’t violate the privacy rights of Oklahoma citizens.
“While the state pursues opportunities in (unmanned aerial systems), the governor will work with lawmakers to protect the privacy and safety of all Oklahomans,” Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said in a statement. “As Rep. Wesselhoft suggests, UAS research can and will be done in a way that respects the privacy rights and safety concerns of our citizens.”
Wesselhoft’s bill also is supported by the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups that support privacy and civil liberties.
“Privacy is the right, absent cause, to be let alone from the government,” ACLU-Oklahoma’s Executive Director Ryan Kiesel told the committee.