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Political issues

In the public’s eye, however, the more pressing matter is personal privacy. Many Americans see drones as the physical manifestations of a Big Brother culture that includes eye-in-the-sky cameras overhead at all times.

Revelations about the depth of government surveillance programs have only fueled fears that drones are the next step in an effort to watch everyone, all the time.

State and local governments have begun to address personal privacy through drone legislation. Such bills also have been introduced on Capitol Hill, but none has become law.

Lawmakers from states chosen for test sites said they were grateful to be on the forefront of aviation technology but recognize privacy concerns.

“I am confident the FAA, Congress and the state of Nevada can strike a balance between this opportunity and the development of privacy standards and safeguards that will guarantee the constitutional rights of Nevadans and Americans across the country,” Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, said after it was announced that his state will host a test site focused on operator standards, certification requirements and air traffic control procedures.

The FAA has addressed the issue by requiring strict privacy policies at each of the six test sites, but advocates warn that simply isn’t enough.

“We’re pleased the FAA has acknowledged the importance of safeguarding privacy in the testing areas where drones will be flying, but requiring test sites to have privacy policies is no guarantee that every site will put strong protections in place,” said Catherine Crump, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Someday, drones will be commonplace in U.S. skies and, before that happens, it’s imperative that Congress enact strong, nationwide privacy rules,” she said.

In addition to Virginia Tech, which will operate drone test sites in Virginia and New Jersey, the other five locations announced Monday are the University of Alaska, the Nevada state government, Griffiss International Airport in Rome, N.Y., the North Dakota Department of Commerce, and the Corpus Christi campus of Texas A&M University.

The winners were chosen from 25 applicants in two dozen states.