Whately selectmen pass anti-drone resolution

WHATELY — Whately has become the latest western Massachusetts town to publicly oppose the unrestricted use of drone aircraft within its boundaries.

The Board of Selectmen voted at its last meeting to adopt a nonbinding resolution opposing activity by drones within town that it says would violate personal privacy and the property rights of town residents. The document will be signed at its next meeting.

The resolution states the town’s opposition to an expansion of the navigable airspace above private property by the Federal Aviation Administration to accommodate drones, which it says is “generally understood” to be about 500 feet, and that drones should not have the “public right of transit” through the immediate airspace above private property in town.

Additionally, it calls on Congress, the FAA and the Massachusetts legislature to respect legal precedent and civil liberties related to drones and navigable airspace.

In passing the resolution, Whately joins a number of nearby towns that have also passed anti-drone resolutions in recent years. The document is based on a similar resolution that was passed by Northampton’s City Council in 2013.

Earlier this year, voters at town meetings in Amherst and Leverett both adopted similar resolutions. Those resolutions also included passages calling for an end to the use of drones for assassinations on foreign soil and for heavier regulations on their use within the United States, but that language was struck from the Whately resolution due to concerns from the selectmen that such issues were beyond their purview.

Joyce Palmer Fortune, the board’s chairwoman, said she first learned of the resolution from Paul Voss, an associate professor of engineering at Smith College. Voss brought the resolution before the board at a previous meeting, where he gave a presentation about how regulation and rules changes at the FAA could limit the use of drones for commercial purposes by farmers or researchers and that he said were being designed to benefit the defense contracting companies who produce them.

Fortune said she was worried that over-regulation of the use of airspace could prevent those farmers from using drones to survey their land or researchers from carrying out important work.

“This seemed completely appropriate on behalf of the farmers and researchers,” she said.

Beyond the economic reasons for supporting the resolution, Fortune said she is also concerned about threats to civil liberties and freedom posed by the possibility of drones being used for surveillance.

“A lot of the things he is saying may sound a bit alarmist, but I think they’re reasonable,” said Fortune. “There is some threat to our freedom from who is allowed to use the air above our land. Why on earth would we allow police or others to put a spy drone out there to look at people?”

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