Let’s Stop Behaving Like Luddites

By Anthony Colannino

It has been said that the problem with being a hammer is that every problem begins to look like a nail. The same can be said for lawyers and laws. And like hammers, laws are blunt instruments whose destructive capacity equals or exceeds their constructive uses. These two premises are the concerns I have with ADDA President Mark Debbaudt’s proposition that the millions of pages of existing prohibitions and regulations – both statutory and common law – are insufficient to regulate and control the use of drones. Knee-jerk reactions that “something has to be done” because of anecdotal claims invariably tend to the destructive rather than the constructive.

Just look at Mr. Debbaudt’s title: “Proliferation of drones requires swift and powerful response.” Sounds ominous. In standard rhetorical fashion, Mr. Debbaudt then constructs his parade of horribles to justify the need for “swift and powerful response.” (Tellingly, it’s a short procession consisting of just three anecdotes: one small drone once flew over a fire, one even smaller drone once fell onto a little girl on a street and the FAA has discovered that with three times more drones in the sky, pilots are now seeing drones three times as often.)

Based on this, what should that swift and powerful response look like according to Mr. Debbaudt? New laws! According to Mr. Debbaudt, “It’s going to take registration. It’s going to take education. And, above all, it’s going to take the strongest possible civil and criminal penalties against people who break the rules or who fail to register their drones.” Therefore, “public safety agencies and organizations and [sic] support any and all local, state and federal ordinances and laws that would impose penalties against people who misuse drones or fly them irresponsibly.”

Really? Mr. Debbaudt speaks for all public safety agencies and organizations? (As President, Mr. Debbaudt doesn’t even speak for the ADDA any more than I, as its Secretary.) Really? All public safety agencies and organizations support “any and all local, state and federal ordinances and laws that would impose penalties against people who misuse drones or fly them irresponsibly?”

Regardless of the law’s potential for unintended consequences? Regardless of the law’s collateral effects of stunting innovation, limiting personal freedom and creating a minefield of regulations that can turn even the most law-abiding individual into an unwitting criminal? We really support “any law” that imposes the “strongest possible civil and criminal penalties” on someone who’s hobby drone accidentally flies over another’s unmarked and undeveloped rural vacation property as did the proposed law that Mr. Debbaudt laments Governor Brown vetoed?

Let’s face it; all the good laws were written over five-thousand years ago. Don’t murder, don’t assault, don’t steal, don’t … you get the idea. It is a unique mental condition of the ruling class that believes new technologies are, in some way, incapable of fitting within the framework of existing laws and that only they, through the creation of even more complex legal codes, can correct this imbalance in the force.

Before we construct a new hammer, let’s examine what already exists in our already overly-bloated toolbox.

Anthony Colannino is Secretary of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys .  The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles deputy district attorneys.

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