Prying eyes: Legislature needs to act to preserve privacy from drones

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial: The Alaska Legislature, now that it is in session, needs to take a close look at the privacy issues involved in the world of unmanned aerial vehicles.

UAVs, more commonly referred to as drones, have become more of a topic of concern around the nation as their use outside the U.S. military increases. Most of us came to know about UAVs through their attacks on terrorists in Afghanistan, but a boom is under way in their application on the civilian side.

More recently, UAVs became of greater interest in Fairbanks when the Federal Aviation Administration announced last month that the University of Alaska system was chosen as one of six national test sites for experimental unmanned aircraft.

The UA proposal includes 13 ranges for drone testing in Alaska as well as in the states of Oregon and Hawaii, which partnered with UA. One of those sites is an area 8 miles in diameter around the Poker Flat Research Range, located up the Steese Highway. Another is in the Denali region.

The Legislature has a couple of bills before it on the topic. One was introduced days ago and is sponsored by Reps. Steve Thompson and Pete Higgins, both Fairbanks Republicans, and by two other legislators. Their House Bill 255 addresses how a law enforcement agency can use a drone and under what circumstances it can retain images obtained by the drone. It also authorizes the university to set up a program to train people in UAV operation.

Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, last year introduced HB 159, which would make it a crime for one person to use a UAV to violate the privacy of another person. That bill, however, was referred to four committees, usually a sign that the majority party, in this case the Republicans, doesn’t intend to let the bill proceed.

The subject of privacy in the age of drones is one of such incredible importance. The temptation for government and civilian misuse of these pilotless aircraft could be great.

The National Conference of State Legislatures on Friday issued an update on how the various states are handling the issue. The NCSL found that 13 states have enacted 16 laws regarding UAV use. Alaska is not one of those states.

“Common issues addressed in the legislation include defining what a UAS, UAV or drone is, how they can be used by law enforcement or other state agencies, how they can be used by the general public, regulations for their use in hunting game and the Federal Aviation Administration UAS test sites.”

Alaska legislators need to take up the issue in earnest this session and act to ensure the privacy of the state’s residents.

The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

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The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

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