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|Some of the folks gather outside the hearing room after a successful day at the capital|
Peter Woodruff and I drove to the state capital in Augusta today to attend the drone hearing before the combined Senate and House Judiciary Committee. The drone bill was last on their agenda so we met artist-activists Natasha Mayers and Suzanna Lasker in the Hall of Flags where we held signs opposing the drone surveillance state. Natasha was dressed in her black garb with a drone state license plate around her neck. She got lots of looks.
With some time to waste, and recognizing it could be a long day, we walked down to the capital basement cafeteria to get a bite to eat. As we entered the packed dining area all eyes were on Natasha.
We next made our way up to the 4th floor hearing room and when we entered Natasha again captured all the attention. She sat down in the front row - with stovepipe hat still on her head and drone state license plate still around her neck. The chair of the hearing, with a smile on her face, told Natasha that she would have to take off her costume. So Natasha took off the hat, put it on the floor in front of her and was then told to take the "sign" from around her neck as well.
After the drone bill was presented the audience was invited to speak. First to the podium to speak in favor of the bill was Shenna Bellows from the ACLU who made a strong case against drones and then suggested that Maine follow the lead of the Virginia state legislature which recently passed a two-year moratorium on drone operations.
I was next up and read my prepared statement. After I finished one of the conservatives on the committee asked me if I supported weapons on drones. I said no because they were immoral and illegal and I then proceeded to tell how the United Nations and a journalistic investigatory body had delivered conclusive evidence that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of civilians have been killed by US drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. I talked about how the drone strikes had hit funerals and weddings. The conservative senator shot back at me with the question, "You mean the military is doing that?" Yes, I said, the military and the CIA.
Others in the audience also gave excellent testimony. One young man talked about how you can now buy a computer hacking program for $26 that allows a person to download the surveillance footage that the police are getting from their snooping drones. That really got the attention of the committee members.
Next up were those who opposed the drone regulation bill - land surveyors, state police, a drone maker and the Attorney General's office. But most of them agreed that a one year moratorium would be useful and necessary if the state was going to get a handle on the coming surge of drones flying over our heads and the resultant public outrage.
The Judiciary Committee co-chairs Sen. Valentino (Saco) and Rep. Charles Priest (Brunswick) declared that another hearing would be necessary before making any decision. On March 7 at 2:30 pm the committee and the public will continue this drone debate. More people will be needed in the audience and it would be helpful if Mainers would contact their state legislative delegations in support of "An Act to Protect the Privacy of Citizens from Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Use" - LD 236 (SP 72).
I intend to be there that day. Hope you join us.