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VA gov’s drone amendments put police in pilot’s seat

By   /   March 27, 2013  /   No Comments

LOOK OUT ABOVE: Ironically, the first state to pass a drone moratorium could become a leader in their usage.

LOOK OUT ABOVE: Ironically, the first state to pass a drone moratorium could become a leader in their usage.

By Kenric Ward | Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND — Gov. Bob McDonnell is seeking to weaken state legislation aimed at curbing the use of aerial drones, a civil-liberties expert charges.

The Republican governor wants to amend a temporary moratorium that passed the General Assembly. McDonnell’s revised version would allow the use of the unmanned craft for certain law enforcement operations such as the search or rescue of missing persons or in cases involving “imminent danger to any person.”

“This will allow law enforcement officials to use this developing technology to protect public safety while respecting individual rights of citizens and their expectation of privacy,” said Jeff Caldwell, the governor’s press secretary.

Additionally, the governor’s amendments clarify that the legislation does not apply to institutions of higher education or other entities engaged in research and development of this and related technology.

John Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute, a civil-liberties group, said McDonnell’s actions did not surprise him.

“He’s a former prosecutor, and law enforcement wants these (drones),” Whitehead said in an interview on WINA radio Tuesday.

Whitehead noted that the higher-education exemption was predictable, too.

“There are going to be (college) degrees in drones,” he said.

“Get ready, Virginia. The moratorium is an illusion. We will be one of the leading states” for drone use and technology.

Though the Rutherford Institute proposed a commission of civil-liberties advocates to study the issue, McDonnell’s amendments directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services to develop guidelines for use of drones by law enforcement agencies.

The General Assembly will reconvene April 3 to consider McDonnell’s amendments.

Contact Kenric Ward at or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward




Kenric Ward is the San Antonio-based reporter for A California native and veteran journalist who has worked on three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, he received a BA from UCLA (Political Science/Phi Beta Kappa) and holds an MBA. He reported and edited at the San Jose Mercury News and the Las Vegas Sun before joining in 2012 and has won over 30 journalism awards throughout his career. His work has been published in the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Odessa American, The Monitor, Corsicana Daily Sun, Laredo Morning Times, Palestine Herald-Press, Waxahachie Daily Light, The Orange Leader, the Katy News, Fox News, Townhall, and others. Kenric is a member of the Investigative Reporters & Editors network and can be reached at