Prospect of drones in NC has backers, opponents buzzing

Posted January 17, 2014
Updated January 18, 2014

— State lawmakers next week will begin discussing rules for government and commercial use of drone aircraft in North Carolina, and the balance between security and privacy will likely become a central issue.

After the city of Monroe proposed buying a drone for its police department last year, lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on use of the unmanned aircraft by state or local governments.

Privacy advocates say drones will open the door to unconstitutional surveillance, but Kyle Snyder and other drone proponents say the aircraft have legitimate uses and that the state shouldn't go too far in regulating them.

Snyder, who heads the Next Generation Air Transportation Center at North Carolina State University, is the only government employee in the state allowed to use drones.

Since last July, he has been flying a 3-pound drone over Hyde County to take pictures of farmland. "Unmanned aerial systems," as he calls them, can survey crops for pests and damage much more cheaply than planes, saving farmers a lot of money.

They can also map flood plains, survey wildfires and even help in search and rescue, said Snyder, who will help lawmakers write the new regulations.

"No state agency should just go out and fly," he said. "So, let's present a data management plan and a mission – here's what we're going to go accomplish today, and here's what we're going to do with the data afterward."

Snyder said he expects drones to proliferate in the next few years, and he doesn't want North Carolina to restrict them too much. The industry is looking for a home, he said, and it could mean hundreds of jobs in the state.

"The industry wants to come here," he said. "I've got industry partners lined up to say, 'Yes, if we can fly and we can fly in multiple locations in your state, we're ready to come.'"

Sarah Preston, policy director with the state chapter of the ACLU, said North Carolina should adopt strict rules for drones, at least as far as government use is concerned.

"There are ways in which the technology can be beneficial, and we certainly don't want to say you can't use it at all," Preston said. "We just want you to abide by the same constitutional protections that you have to abide by when you're doing other types of surveillance."

A bill filed in the last legislative session would require police to get a warrant to use a drone and bar them from using anyone else's drone video in court. Preston said she is hopeful that will pass this year.

"This is an opportunity for the legislature to get ahead of the technology, get laws in place to regulate the use, particularly having to do with government surveillance, before every police or county agency has one," she said.


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  • alana2 Jan 22, 2014

    I have a simple question. How will this affect people who own and fly radio controlled planes and helicopters? Aren't they a form of drone?

  • TP4Real Jan 21, 2014

    So, as I understand it, we
    ll get all excited and up in arms and place a moratorium of 2 years as well as start a bunch of legislation to limit drones because of privacy concerns (mooma may get caught topless sunbathing perhaps?) and yet with something that could destroy our natural resources and destroy our drinking water and air quality, we're gung-ho to get every conceivable hurdle that might impede that moved out of the way. My takeaway is that if there isn't any MONEY in it, then ban it, regulate the heck out of it, get government intervention started, and generally beat it to death. But if a corporation or individuals could profit from it somehow, we've got to get moving asap to get those dollars rolling in?

  • erospawn Jan 21, 2014

    I was talking to a friend one time about flying Rc helis and was showing him how they worked and that I was building a Scale heli from scratch. Someone over heard us talking and wanted to know more. So, I explained to him what I was doing. When he found out, I would say building a scale heli, and he kept insisting I was building a drone. I kept correcting him, but he would have none of it. He presented me with his business card, Turns out he worked for a local magazine and wanted to write and article on me.. Titled "Local man building his own drone". I went home and promptly tore up his card because as neat as it would have been to have an article written about what I was doing, 10% would be about what I was building..which is a model of helicopter, but would be called a "drone" and the other 90% would be an expose' on the dangers of drones, how easy they are to build and how we should all be running for our lives.. No thanks...I don't want to be a part of that.

  • erospawn Jan 21, 2014

    First off,..what is the definition of "Drone"? "Drone" these days seems to always mean a remote controlled aircraft used for nefarious purposes. I fly RC Helicopters, I have friends who fly Quad Copters, I have friends who fly RC Airplanes, and they are not Drones" RC Helis and Planes have been around for more than 30 years. But thanks to camera technology, all can be equipped to carry a Camera as small as they have become. Everyone I know flies aircraft as a hobby. It has encouraged young people to go on to become future pilots and engineers. Where does the definition of "drone" fall? To me, a drone doesn't require Line of Site to fly. You can fly a long distance with the use of FPV systems.. Model RC Airplanes and Helis require line of site..which means you can only fly them as far as your eyes can see. Only Quads and Airplanes are stable enough to be equipped with FPV systems, Helis not so much. There are many people who enjoy this hobby and don't use it for commercial purposes

  • westernwake1 Jan 21, 2014

    Drones can be very useful for agriculture and industrial (pipeline, etc.) monitoring purposes. We should allow drones to be used for these purposes but not for law enforcement and human surveillance. The drones should be licensed and information on the purpose of each flight submitted for public review.

    The other advantage of using drones for agriculture and industrial purposes is that nearly all of these flights would take place in rural areas. If a drone crashed then it would be unlikely to harm anyone.

  • Atheistinafoxhole Jan 21, 2014

    View quoted thread

    So, would you also agree that all LEOs should have automatic PVRs (personal video recorders) while on duty and "in car" cameras (in addition to dash cams) to ensure that they are not violating the public trust? If they have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear, right? They are paid by tax dollars, so we should have a right to accurate records of their behavior while under color of authority.

  • 45ACP Jan 21, 2014

    So, Boogaloo. If you had nothing to hide, would you give up your 4th amendment rights and let a cop search your vehicle without probable cause?

  • A person Jan 21, 2014

    Those drones are what we plan to use as targets just as soon as they start flying. can't wait

  • paintcan Jan 21, 2014

    I say incorporate drones, but plan well.
    Kyle Snyder sounds on top of that already.
    Most of the opposition sounds like the flat earth crowd is on the prowl.

  • f6rider Jan 21, 2014

    I imagine a few will be shot down that are spotted flying over rural areas.