Drones

“DRONE WARS”: THE BATTLE FOR MIDWESTERN SKIES

Travis Waller, MJLST Staffer

Given the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens film upcoming this December, introducing a discussion on recent policies involving drone regulation seemed like a worthwhile addition to this week’s blog.

While the robotic “drones” of our day and age are certainly not cut from the same titanium alloy as George Lucas’ quasi-humanoid “droid” characters in many of his films, North Dakota may well be on it’s way to starting it’s own “robotic army” of sorts.

A friend and colleague from the University of Connecticut School of Law brought to my attention an article by Ben Woods, discussing the 2015 ND House Bill proposing the arming of drones with “non-lethal weaponry” for police functions. With the shocking amount of police deaths reported in this country last year, North Dakota may well be leading the way in finding an innovative alternative to placing human officers in potentially dangerous confrontations. However, this benefit does not come without a cost. As presented in a segment by Ashley Maas of the NY Times, drone regulation is still up in the air (excuse the pun). Only within the last year has the FAA determined that they are able to take action against civilian violators of drone regulations.

Moreover, with recent reports involving the hacking of automated vehicles, as well as Maas’ examples of civilians using drone technology for less than constructive purposes, placing dangerous technology on these machines may well develop into a major public policy concern.

While it is this author’s humble opinion that a fair amount of time exists before we, as a people, need be concerned with an Invasion of Naboo type situation, this may be exactly the type of situation where more time is needed to allow for the security measures around the technology, as well as the legal infrastructure surrounding drone regulation, to catch up to the state legislatures hopes for drone usage. As the matter stands now, allowing drones to be used in a police capacity risks a host of possible problems, including potential 4th amendment violations, and even increasing an already shockingly high risk of civilian causalities related to police activity.

With the law having already gone into effect on August 1st of this year, we will just have to wait and see how these issues play out.

Until next time,

-Travis

*Special Thanks to Monica Laskos, University of Connecticut School of Law ’17, for the idea to pursue this topic.