The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today released a letter mailed to Attorney General Mark Herring regarding a pending request from the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Wise County/City of Norton for an official opinion that would create an exception to Virginia’s drone moratorium law. The Commonwealth’s Attorney asked the Attorney General to issue an opinion interpreting the moratorium law as allowing law enforcement to use an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), commonly referred to as a drone, if that law enforcement agency is operating under a valid search warrant. The ACLU of Virginia responded by asking the Attorney General to uphold the law and find that the existing moratorium does not permit the use of drones by law enforcement in the execution of a valid search warrant until at least July 1, 2015.
“The Attorney General must reject the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s request to ignore the clear intent of the legislature,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “As the legislature recognized last year, basic privacy protections and accountability requirements must be established before any drone is deployed in a criminal investigation by law enforcement. The entire purpose of the moratorium, which is to give lawmakers and stakeholders an opportunity to address critical contested issues about the use of drones before they are put into widespread use, is defeated if the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s position is adopted by the Attorney General. We urge the Attorney General to protect the privacy of all Virginians and reject the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s invitation to gut the current law.”
The General Assembly passed legislation in 2013 that prohibits all use of drones by law enforcement and regulatory agencies prior to July 1, 2015, except in limited circumstances detailed in the law that include Amber, Blue, and Senior alerts. The moratorium also includes an exception that allows the National Guard to use drones as needed to maintain readiness for its federal mission, and universities to use drones in research, but the law also clearly prohibits the use of drones for law enforcement activity not specifically permitted under the law.