Drone-free Virginia?

While the debate over the use of drones overseas plays out in Washington, some groups in the U.S. are pushing for action on the local level. On Monday, the city of Charlotteville, VA became the first municipality in the country to pass legislation restricting the use of drones: The resolution means that Charlottesville will be ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

While the debate over the use of drones overseas plays out in Washington, some groups in the U.S. are pushing for action on the local level. On Monday, the city of Charlotteville, VA became the first municipality in the country to pass legislation restricting the use of drones:

The resolution means that Charlottesville will be a no-drone zone and the use of drones for surveillance and other uses will not be allowed.

The law is based on model legislation prepared by the Rutherford Institute, a libertarian group based in the city. According to the Institute's website, the law places a 2-year moratorium on the use of drones in the city limits and "urges the Virginia General Assembly to prevent police agencies from utilizing drones outfitted with anti-personnel devices such as tasers and tear gas and prohibit the government from using data recorded via police spy drones in criminal prosecutions."

While the debate over the use of drones overseas plays out in Washington, some groups in the U.S. are pushing for action on the local level. On Monday, the city of Charlotteville, VA became the first municipality in the country to pass legislation restricting the use of drones:

The resolution means that Charlottesville will be a no-drone zone and the use of drones for surveillance and other uses will not be allowed.

The law is based on model legislation prepared by the Rutherford Institute, a libertarian group based in the city. According to the Institute’s website, the law places a 2-year moratorium on the use of drones in the city limits and "urges the Virginia General Assembly to prevent police agencies from utilizing drones outfitted with anti-personnel devices such as tasers and tear gas and prohibit the government from using data recorded via police spy drones in criminal prosecutions."

They didn’t have long to wait. On Tuesday, the Virginia legislature passed a bill that would bar state and local agencies from using drones for two years. Governor and rising GOP star Bob McDonell, who has supported the use of drones by law enforcement in the past, has not yet decided whether he will sign the bill.

The obvious comparison here is to the "nuclear-free zone" ordinances passed by many left-leaning cities, including my old town of Oberlin, Ohio during the 1980s. The success of these was pretty mixed — Berkeley’s law, for instance, has done nothing to stop the nuclear research going on at the university in the city but has been criticized by some for putting onerous restrictions the city government’s purchasing decisions.

Unlike nukes, of course, it’s not hard to imagine applications for drones at a local level. The Virgina laws may be a prelude of political disputes to come. And in a state with stark political divisions, drone concerns also appear to be remarkably bipartisan.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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