Editorial: Oregon wins with drone testing location

Published Jan 1, 2014 at 12:01AM

Oregon won a battle in the drone wars, and it may mean the state will get some testing of non-military applications of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Oregon sites include tribal land at the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and areas around Tillamook and Pendleton. There could also be use of the Oregon Air National Guard training area, which is in parts of Deschutes, Crook, Harney and Lake counties.

There’s big opportunity. The industry is likely to grow. And at this point, these areas will be used to develop the technology and ensure it integrates well with other air traffic.

There are many non-military applications. Drones could be used to help spot wildfires, track down lost hikers, monitor and treat crops, and police could also use them to keep an eye on suspects.

The potential for surveillance and the impact on privacy are a concern. Drones can hover or circle over an area for hours with cameras and other monitoring equipment documenting what’s going on below.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s statement about the issue is not completely reassuring.

“From the start, the FAA recognized it was important to have requirements ensuring that privacy and civil liberties are protected at the test sites,” the FAA’s news release said. “Among other requirements, test site operators must comply with federal, state, and other laws protecting an individual’s right to privacy, have publicly available privacy policies and a written plan for data use and retention, and conduct an annual review of privacy practices that allows for public comment.”

It’s no surprise that drone use has to comply with the law and the public will have input. But the question is: Are there enough protections in place in the law for the new technology?

The concern over privacy, though, is just that: a concern. Central and Eastern Oregon could see the development of a new industry with jobs and investment. Oregon is fortunate to have been chosen as one of the locations by the FAA.