“Virginia has been a leader in economic development in those areas,” Mr. Cline said. “We’re open for business. When it comes to these technologies, we want to remain a leader. We feel approval [to host an FAA test site] would be another step forward in Virginia’s continued leadership.”
The state has partnered with neighboring Maryland and will submit a joint application to the FAA. It’s not clear when the agency will announce the winners of the test-site competition.
Just as in Virginia, a drone duality is unfolding in Arizona. State Rep. Tom Forese, Maricopa County Republican, is sponsoring a privacy-protection bill while also lobbying for the state to be chosen by the FAA.
“On one hand, you have economic development. We’re talking about millions of dollars and thousands of jobs,” he said, according to the Arizona Daily Star. “On the other hand, you have significant threats to our privacy. I take them very seriously. We’re talking about the potential to be searched without a warrant.”
While it may seem that states are trying to have it both ways, it’s possible to both protect privacy and be part of drone expansion, said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
“We shouldn’t be selling our oldest traditions of privacy for some temporary economic gain. … That’s one of the reasons why state legislators should get ahead of the curve here and put in place some good privacy protections and open up the path for a lot of good, innovative uses for drones,” he said. “In the short term, this may look like a conflict. But in the long term, even the most greedy person who wants to do nothing but sell this technology, it’s in their interest for the privacy [questions] to be settled.”
Such a balance may be possible, but states realize that some voters may remain skeptical as drone expansion continues. They’re trusting that, by taking concrete steps to protect privacy rights while also promoting cutting-edge technology, they will eventually convince most residents of the virtues of unmanned aerial systems while putting their fears to rest.
“It is one thing to offer soaring rhetoric about the importance of both technology and/or civil liberties. But eventually both must be proven, affirmed and protected in the real world. That is exactly what we are offering to do in Florida,” said Jim Kuzma, chief operating officer of Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development organization.
Florida is yet another state where strict privacy laws are under consideration in the legislature — while Mr. Kuzma and others ready a pitch for an FAA test site.