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Privacy vs. economic benefit, as Syracuse weighs drone use

Ryan Delaney

Syracuse lawmakers have begun weighing the economic benefits and potential uses of drones with the surveillance and privacy concerns the technology creates.

The Common Council's public safety committee held its first hearing on drones Thursday.

Representatives from economic development agency CenterState CEO presented councilors with the job potential a rising drone industry in upstate New York could have. More than 300 high tech jobs in the near term, they estimate.

A coalition of universities and defense contractors, know as NUAIR and led by CenterState CEO, is trying to become a federally designated drone test site as regulations for their domestic use are developed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Advocates say drones have a multitude of possible uses, including agriculture and search-and-rescue.

But with several peace and privacy advocates present, the focus of the hearing quickly shifted.

"Our privacy laws are not up to this technology. In no way are they," local American Civil Liberties Union chapter director Barry Gewanter told councilors.

"We’re not against drones," explained Syracuse Peace Council president John Brulé. "That would be like a guy driving a horse and buggy being against cars. You just can’t be against the drones. You just need to know where they fit in."

Several communities across the country have already taken action to limit law enforcement use of drones or are considering it. The Syracuse police department told the council it has not looked into acquiring drones.

There are a few drafts of legislation limiting the use of drones by law enforcement in Syracuse floating around city hall, one of which was drafted largely by the Syracuse Peace Council.

"For the general public to be aware, I think, is great," said councilor Jake Barrett, chair of the public safety committee. He stressed that the rules currently written are only drafts.

WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail
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