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Friday, February 8, 2013 - Page updated at 03:00 p.m.

Virginia city: no police spy drones

By W.J. Hennigan
Los Angeles Times

Charlottesville, Va., has taken action against the use of police spy drones, ordering a two-year moratorium on the citywide use of unmanned aircraft.

It is the first city in the nation to do so, supporters say, and may prompt other municipalities to act.

Seeking tough regulation over the future use of civilian drones in U.S. airspace, the City Council passed a resolution that prohibits police agencies from utilizing drones outfitted with devices such as Tasers and tear gas.

It also sought to block governments from using data recorded via police spy drones in criminal prosecutions.

By a 3-2 vote, the council Monday adopted a resolution drafted by the Rutherford Institute, a civil-liberties organization based in Charlottesville. It recommended that the state and federal government follow suit. City officials said anti-drone measures are winning support in the Virginia Legislature.

Charlottesville, with a population of about 43,500, is about 120 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., and is home to the University of Virginia.

The measure comes in response to last year’s congressional mandate to integrate the nation’s airspace with robotic aircraft by September 2015. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working on regulations to accomplish this goal.

Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Singh Huja said federal law would trump the city’s resolution, but the council pushed ahead anyway.

Drones currently are not allowed to fly in the U.S. except with special permission from the FAA, which many police agencies across the nation have obtained.

The drones used are small — typically 50 pounds or less — and resemble children’s toys more than the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones hunting al-Qaida in the Middle East.

But some of the drones can be armed with nonlethal weapons such as beanbag guns or sound cannons, which is why the Rutherford Institute said it drafted the resolution.

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