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Rutherford Institute Concerned about Drone Testing in VA - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Rutherford Institute Concerned about Drone Testing in VA

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Civil liberties advocates are speaking out about the news that our skies may get a bit more crowded - with drones.

Now that the Federal Aviation Administration has named Virginia Tech as a test site, some are emphasizing the need for more legislation that protects the privacy of everyday people.

The Rutherford Institute's John Whitehead says people shouldn't be "anti-drones," but rather pro-civil liberties. He's concerned that the big business of drones is causing certain constitutional rights to get overlooked, but is urging Congress to pass new laws.

"They're saying after 2020, there'll be 20,000 drones flying over the United States,” Whitehead said.

Drone technology is an estimated $30 billion-a-year industry and it's expected to really boom, once safety issues are worked out. But some argue that people have more to worry about than technical problems; they should be worried about their basic rights.

"I don't know why we're rushing into this except for the money and let's get the civil liberties protections underway or I fear that not only are we going to see our civil liberties destroyed, but some people are going to get hurt by this,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead says drones can in some ways be positive for society, but the push to get them into U.S. airspace within the next five years, even as early as 2015, is putting the cart before the horse.

"But I think what we have to be concerned about is that drone technology is amazing. They'll have Wi-Fi capability, they can hack into Wi-Fi, we know the NSA is listening in on our phone calls,” Whitehead said.

The Rutherford Institute says there are about 30 cities interested in following in the footsteps of Charlottesville - the first city in the world to pass any resolution restricting drones.

Whitehead is asking Congress to support what he calls an electronic privacy bill of rights.

“That protects from anything invasive into our homes, our bank records, under the Fourth Amendment the government is not supposed to be doing this, they are not supposed to be doing surveillance of us unless they have evidence of a crime,” Whitehead said.

Right now, the FAA does not allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although it's likely it will take longer than expected.

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