Drone U Podcast: Why We Need "Drone Federalism"

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 21 2013 4:33 PM

Drone U Podcast: Why We Need "Drone Federalism"

Every Wednesday on Future Tense, we will highlight a talk from a leading thinker from Drone U speaking on the topic of what our drone future may look like. Drone U is produced in cooperation with the New America Foundation. (Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University.)

If you’ve been following Drone U, you might have picked up some anxiety about the possible “messiness” of drone regulation. How laws governing drone use will balance hobbyist, law enforcement, civil liberties, media, and entrepreneurial interests is anyone’s guess—especially given the looming September 2015 deadline for full integration of unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace. This week, Margot Kaminski, executive director of the Information Society Project of the Yale Law School, casts off any “drone pessimism” induced by this daunting task.

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Kaminski volunteers a clear solution: Let the states figure it out. In theorizing “drone federalism,” Kaminski reminds us of the old principle that states are laboratories of experimentation. Resolving the tension between accountability and privacy—which drones visibly embody—is no easy task and will require creative legislating. Rather than relying on the federal system, Kaminski argues that states are better positioned to innovate and stumble upon a workable balance for everyone. When states get it wrong, feedback from the courts will correct them. If a particular state gets it right, other states can follow suit.

This solution may also give states a strong incentive to experiment aggressively—whoever finds a balance that makes its citizens happy and innovators excited could become a national “drone haven” of sorts, and bolster the local economy. Recent history illustrates that states are not shy about legislating in this arena.

This state-oriented legal experimentation can take place along several axes, which Kaminski neatly breaks down. This podcast is a must-listen for anyone who has been puzzling over what a nation of laws and drones might look like.

Join us on Aug. 28 for the next episode from Drone U, featuring Naureen Shah, Amnesty International advocacy adviser.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Timothy Reuter is co-creator of Drone U and the founder of the D.C. Area Drone User Group. He also works on issues of international development.

Nabiha Syed is a media lawyer in New York and a visiting fellow at the Yale Law School Information Society Project.  She is the co-founder of DroneU.