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By Miriam Raftery

December 30, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced its choice of six sites to test unmanned drone aircraft.  San Diego is not on the list, despite being home to drone manufacturers and having support from Supervisors and Congressional representatives.

Today’s news drew cheers from citizens’ groups opposed to drone testing in East County, but disappointment from military and economic development interests.

The sites chosen for drone testing are Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.  The FAA said factors considered included geography, climate, ground infrastructure location, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk.

The San Diegio Regional Economic Development Corporation and the San Diego Military Advisory Coucnil had proposed testing drones across a vast flight area from China Lake to Edwards Air Force Base, west to the Pacific Ocean and south to the Mexican border – a region that would encompass mountain and desert areas of East County among others.

Lisa Elkins is a Julian resident, an investigative journalist, and an activist in Back Country Voices, a citizens’ group that has opposed drone testing over rural East County.  She hailed the decision as a victory, adding, “It just goes to show what a small group of citizens can accomplish when they make their voices heard.” 

She added that area residents made many calls as well as sending emails and letters to officials voicing opposition.  Elkins thanked media including East County Magazine for coverage of the issues, adding that she remains concerned over San Diego and  California’s failures to pass any legislation to protect citizens’ privacy rights, as some other states have done. 

The introduction of drones  by the FAA into the national airspace creates “unavoidable privacy concerns which the FAA is required to address,” she noted.  “This fight is far from over but it does give us a little breathing room to get legislation passed before drones are fully integrated throughout the U.S.” The group plans a celebration Saturday at Wynola Pizza.

Dave Patterson with Veterans for Peace also hailed the decision.  “Currently there is no judicial oversight regarding the use of drone technology or the sensor information collected by drones,” he noted. “The prospect of our skies being opened to thousands of drones exacerbates that problem. Drones in our skies present a threat to our privacy, a risk from fire and provide a vehicle for the government’s surveillance programs that the residents of Southern California do not need.”   The veterans’ group plans to celebrate with a protest outside General Atomics, a drone manufacturer, in Poway at Stowe Drive and Scripps Poway Parkway on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

But others decried the decision.  “This is bad news for California. The economic impact would have been great,” said Larry Blumberg, executive director of the San Diego Military Advisory Council, U-T San Diego reported.  He noted that San Diego had a wide variety of geographic terrains and is home to Northrup Grumman and General Atomics, companies with drones that have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) had also supported the proposal.  “San Diego has all the talent and capability to ensure any future use of unmanned platforms is safe and properly regulated” he told U-T San Diego today via e-mail, adding that “it’s hard to see how San Diego’s assets and resources did not put the region at the top of the list.”

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Legislation abandoned in California

The California Bill, CA SB15 | 2013-2014, was introduced to address safety and privacy concerns but legislature adjourned without any further action.

We acknowledge drones have many useful purposes, but the FAA and legislature neglected to implement the necessary safety and privacy regulations that govern the way surveillance is used. There is still a lot of work to be done and we will do our level best to see that our civil liberties are protected. - Back Country Voices | Citizen’s Action Group

The FAA and Congress failed to protect our privacy rights

The introduction of Unmanned Aircraft Systems by the FAA into the National Airspace creates unavoidable privacy concerns which the FAA is required to address. We understand the FAA has considered the privacy problems and violations that have been raised by the UAS test site selection process. However, as one of the possible tests sites, the FAA and Congress failed to address and pass the numerous bills proposed on privacy concerns. The 'Back Country Voices' citizens of San Diego County firmly objected to the FAA’s consideration of Southern California being a testing site for UAS for that reason.