Aligning drones and the law

Beware quick fixes, especially in the age of emerging technology.

The rule of unintended consequences is given expression in the impenetrable language of a bill, HB 2789, designed to regulate aerial drones (not to be confused with combat drones, the hunter-killers dispatched by the CIA to assassinate suspected terrorists.)

The name “drone” aggravates the problem, a word freighted by images of exploding vans and buzzing robots with X-ray vision. Message: These Ray Bradbury gizmos are terrifying.

The drone bill, which passed both houses of the Legislature and is headed to the governor for his signature or veto, focuses on the use of drones by state and local agencies, not hobbyists. The trouble, beyond its elastic definition of personal information, is transparency and public records. Media won’t be able to access drone videos made by law enforcement, much like it receives access to ground filming, airplane or helicopter video (read: just employ a drone if you’re concerned about media vetting.) The timeline for the “Mission Impossible” this-tape-will-self-destruct narrows from 30 days in some cases to 10 days in others. It makes it tough to bird-dog agency monkey business when evidence is in electronic heaven.

Ironically, the bill could prohibit the regulatory use of drones when it’s in the public interest, such as forestry management and enforcement of pollution standards. This isn’t proactive strategizing, it’s a premature solution in search of a problem.

The bill is rife with Orwellian contradictions. Section 13 reads that, “Personal information collected during the operation of an extraordinary sensing device authorized by and consistent with this subchapter may not be used, copied, or disclosed for any purpose after the conclusion of the operation, unless there is probable cause that the personal information is evidence of criminal activity.” It’s then followed by a line that mandates zero change in the status quo: “Nothing in this act is intended to expand or contract the obligations of an agency to disclose public records as provided in chapter 42.56 RCW.” To paraphrase “Alice in Wonderland,” it reads like uncommon nonsense.

Unfortunately, HB 2789 may become the law of the land, uncommon nonsense or no. Drones are a lightning rod; the potential for abuse is rampant. What is required is not ad hoc lawmaking, but a task force of agency staff and legislators to develop a manageable, constitutional solution with clear standards for law enforcement as well as regulation and private use. This may require separate statutes.

An easy call on a complex subject. Gov. Jay Inslee needs to veto HB 2789.

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Monday, Sept. 25

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Daydream is over; GOP must work with Democrats on ACA fix

Editorial: The Senate should end its latest ACA repeal effort and continue bipartisan talks.

Simoneaux: Job-hunting advice from one who’s done hunting

Past a certain age — say 50 — you’ll need to keep your wits and your humor at the ready.

Saunders: Ask around; you’ll hear praise for Trump on N. Korea

The leader of the nation most vulnerable to Kim’s aggression said he liked Trump’s speech.

Milbank: If he isn’t making us ill, Trump is making some crazy

A new paper discusses the Trump era and what mental health professionals are observing in patients.

Corporate tax reform won’t trickle down to workers

I see Congress is going to tackle tax reform, including cuts to… Continue reading

County Council, Dist. 5: Kelly’s knowledge needed on council

Recently the Herald chose to give a great deal of attention to… Continue reading

Men on our currency didn’t fight to preserve slavery

In response to the Sept. 4 letter to the editor concerning the… Continue reading

Editorial cartoons for Sunday, Sept. 24

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Most Read