- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Connecticut’s top police officers asked state lawmakers Tuesday to loosen restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles so that authorities are allowed to use armed drones in exigent circumstances.

During a hearing in which legislatures debated a bill before the Connecticut General Assembly concerning the use of weaponized drones, Farmington Police Chief Paul Melanson said that an exception should be carved out for law enforcement.

As written, the bill would make it illegal to use a drone to control a deadly weapon, explosive or incendiary device, and also limit the use of drones by law enforcement and other state agencies. But while testifying at Tuesday’s hearing on behalf of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, Chief Melanson said police should be given an exception so that authorities are able to adequately respond to future scenarios in which armed robots could be of assistance.

“We’ve had a report that somebody’s going to fly a drone into an airplane, into an engine, or it’s a weaponized drone,” Chief Melanson said, a local Fox News affiliate reported. “We’re concerned and we don’t have those answers yet.”

In the event that authorities respond to a high-risk situation, such as where a suspect has been barricaded, Chief Melanson said that police “may use a robot in order to keep the public or officer safe.”

“I think it’s important not to limit law enforcement or public safety’s ability to protect the public,” Berlin Police Chief Paul Fitzgerald testified at Tuesday’s hearing, according to the Hartford Courant. “You don’t want to get into an arms race, I understand that, but we have to be prepared to handle unforeseen situations … at a public event, a crime or a terrorist incident.”

A similar drone bill was passed by the state Senate last year and ultimately died in the House, but efforts were renewed in February in response to a viral video in which a teenager was shown controlling a commercially available drone modified to fire a handgun.

“The mere weaponization of any aircraft simply doesn’t cause its own problems, it’s the person’s use of it,” the teen, Austin Haughwout, testified during a separate hearing at the state capital Monday, the Hartford Courant reported. “Simply making something illegal wouldn’t stop someone who has bad intentions. If their only intention is to enjoy the technology that they have access to, then there is no public safety hazard.”

David McGuire, a legislative and policy director for the state’s American Civil Liberties Union branch, agreed that providing police with armed drones could have the potential for creating new problems.

“We are concerned that there could be misuse, particularly on vulnerable communities,” he testified at Tuesday’s hearing, the Fox affiliate reported.

Meanwhile, security researcher Nils Rodday was expected to give a presentation at the RSA security conference in San Francisco on Wednesday concerning a whole other issue affecting commercial drones. According to WIRED, Mr. Rodday was slated to demonstrate a vulnerability he had discovered that had enabled him to hijack a $35,000 surveillance drone that is commonly used by law enforcement the world over.

“You can send a command to the camera, to turn it to the wrong side so they don’t receive the desired information…or you can steal the drone, all the equipment attached to it, and its information,” he told WIRED.

Last August, lawmakers in North Dakota approved a bill that affords police the right to use drones outfitted with non-lethal weapons.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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