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State Task Force Starts Work On New Drone Regulations In Washington

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network

Imagine looking out your window to see a drone hovering outside. That happened in June to a partially-dressed Seattle woman who was startled and outraged.

That incident came up Monday as a Washington state task force convened for the first time to develop privacy rules for drones -- something Oregon and Idaho have already done.

The Washington task force quickly narrowed its focus on government agency use of drones. Back in April, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the Washington Legislature's first attempt to regulate in this space. He then convened this task force. It's now making another attempt to strike a balance between privacy protection and cost-efficient aerial data collection for jobs like counting elk or monitoring an oil spill.

Mitch Barker of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, law enforcement's representative on the panel, said he fears a rulemaking "quagmire."

"We can fly to wildlife, but if we happen to see somebody murdering their wife at a campsite, we can't use that," he said. "It becomes very difficult for us."

Washington's drone task force is mindful that the Federal Aviation Administration is already in the midst of writing rules for commercial drone operations. Last year, the Oregon Legislature passed a measure to limit police use of drones for surveillance. The Idaho Legislature approved a broader ban against photographing or recording over private property without the owner's consent.

In conjunction with his April veto, Governor Inslee declared a 15-month moratorium on state agency purchases of drones and asked local police to follow suit. That was intended to give lawmakers time to craft better privacy rules.

The next meeting of the Washington drone task force is on August 11 in Olympia.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.