Law enforcement presses for system to register and track civilian UAVs

As more and more civilian-owned unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)–or drones–take wing in U.S. airspace, state and federal officials alike worry about the hazards they pose: They might crash into human-driven aircraft, or be used for spying on neighbors or even committing acts of terrorism. Lawmakers are consequently drafting legislation for registering and tracking civilian UAVs nationwide–though they are doing so with some resistance from UAV users who suspect that the officials will use the regulatory oversight to invade UAV owners’ privacy.

California’s Alameda County Deputy Sheriff Richard Hassna recalled an incident to Bloomberg News in which he was directing firefighters at the scene of an apartment fire and using an aerial camera when a privately owned quadcopter UAV (like a helicopter but with four sets of rotary blades instead of one) buzzed onto the scene and into the camera’s path.

“Unfortunately, I’ve just begun to see these happening on a regular basis,” Hassna said. “I think it’s going to get worse and cause a problem.” He added that terrorists could strap explosives to a UAV and fly it at targets.

The Federal Aviation Administration is now formulating laws that would give police officers the means to find the identity of a UAV’s operator and enable police surveillance to locate the UAV and follow its flight path. The House and Senate are also considering bills to create a national UAV registry.

They are encountering some pushback, however. Some UAV users complain that the government tracking their aircraft seems like an invasion of privacy. And a sympathetic federal court shut down an FAA rule to create a non-commercial UAV registry in May

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