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August 25, 2013

Privacy takes back seat to jobs in drone debate

In the balancing act over state concerns about drone surveillance and the opportunity for drone-related jobs, economic interests appear to be winning out.

Lured by the possibility of winning one of six Federal Aviation Administration test sites to integrate drones into the national airspace and the aerospace jobs that come with it, at least 16 states presented their credentials to the drone industry and the federal government at the recent Association for Unmanned Aerial Systems International, or AUVSI, conference in Washington, D.C.

The jobs created around an FAA test site could be a boon for states _ Utah, for instance, estimates a test site would bring at least 23,000 new jobs. Nationally, at least 70,000 jobs will be created in the first three years of drone integration to the national airspace, according to AUVSI.

Tougher privacy laws were seen as a non-starter for states wanting to attract drone jobs and win a test site.

“What kind of message would that send to the selection committee for the FAA site, that we wanted to limit drone use and then also wanted the test site?” said North Dakota Republican Sen. Tony Grindberg, explaining how the state legislature defeated a drone privacy bill this year.

At least six states passed laws this year to restrict drone use by law enforcement and set limits on how information collected from a drone, such as photos or videos, can be used. But more states are doing all they can to appeal to the emerging industry.

Oklahoma’s Gov. Mary Fallin has a cabinet-level secretary dedicated to attracting drone companies to the state. New Mexico has already secured an FAA test site, given its long history of military testing. In promotional materials, Utah touts that it is “one of the few states with unified executive and legislative support for UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) testing.”

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