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Oklahomans concerned about unmanned aircraft attend state Capitol rally

Nearly 200 people attend a rally Saturday at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City to support Oklahoma House Bill 1556 by Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, that would place regulations on the use of drones in the state.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: February 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm •  Published: February 24, 2013

“I think there's a lot of popular support behind this legislation,” said Wesselhoft, who attended the rally.

He said his measure is not intended to harm efforts under way in Oklahoma to test small, unmanned aircraft systems, commonly called drones. Oklahoma was the first state chosen by the U.S. Homeland Security Department as a testing site for these systems. It is vying to be one of six testing sites for the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is expected to approve regulations for the drones by 2015.

Companies are testing drones in restricted air space over Fort Sill near Elgin.

The robotic aircraft being tested are to be used for purposes such as search-and-rescue efforts or responding to natural disasters such as tornadoes and fires.

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said he is concerned drones will become commonplace in American life.

Authorities in Ogden, Utah, are using the aircraft as “floating surveillance blimps” and police in Houston are using them to issue traffic tickets.

“We have to anticipate there will be increasing pressure on all levels of our government to incorporate drones into … law enforcement activities,” he said. “Even when drones are used for search and rescue or fighting wildfires … they'll likely to be embraced by law enforcement for far more controversial purposes.”