City Club of C.O. joins the debate over drones

New technology pits privacy vs. economics, usefulness

Central Oregon takes on drone debate

BEND, Ore. - Oregon lawmakers recently passed a bill to regulate the use of drones, saying police cannot use them without a warrant, unless it's an emergency.

It's a controversial issue here in Oregon and across the United States.

On Thursday, the City Club of Central Oregon brought  the debate to Bend.

"Cameras can sense nitrogen levels, nutrition levels and water," said Josh Brundgardt, the director of unmanned systems at Bend drone management company PARADIGM.

Collins Hemingway, the former chair of Economic Development for Central Oregon's Aviation Recruitment Committee Collins Hemingway said, "(Drones can help in) things like firefighting, forest management, wildlife management."

Perhaps the most controversial topic, is the use of drones by government officials and law enforcement.

Although Bend police don't currently have any unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Police Chief Jeff Sale said the technology would greatly assist police in public safety and rescues.

"(It could be) a platform where we can see what's going on before we start sending our people in there," Sales said.

And with hundreds of potential uses, the sky's the limit for drones.

As the technology evolves faster than laws and regulations, economics, usefulness and privacy are caught in the balancing act.

"It is one of the biggest privacy issues certainly in the state and in the nation at this point," said American Civil Liberties Union Oregon Chapter attorney Becky Straus.

Straus said this year, 42 states proposed legislation to regulate the use of drones, and Oregon was one of six states that have passed new laws so far this year.

In Oregon, the law mandates police can't use drones to get information without a warrant -- except for emergencies.

While Sale said he understands the concern for privacy and that the concerns are legitimate, he also thinks it's not much different than similar technology already routinely used.

"It's no different in my view than when we want to put cameras in public places," Sale said.

While some focus on privacy, others look at the dollar signs and prospect of new industry.

"In Central Oregon alone, if we were able to get a test site and develop this industry, there would probably be at least 400 jobs. Statewide, we think it could be 1,400, probably more," Hemingway said.

There are a few companies in Central Oregon already in the business.

"(Our company is)developing the technology and sensors to go over agricultural fields, specifically potatoes at this point, and look at nitrogen levels and look at irrigation," Brungardt said.

Central Oregon is one of six potential testing sites being considered by the federal government to test drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration hopes to have domestic drones in the airspace by 2015.

The new Oregon rules say it's illegal to use drones as weapons. It's also illegal to operate a drone over someone's private property outside of federal airspace.

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