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Drone use regulation has a long way to go

In Dayton Ohio News, Education, history, National News, Opinion, Technology, Uncategorized on December 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm

DIH LOGOFor the last several years unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have become a popular tool for everything from wildlife tracking to disaster response. But the wide application of these devices has become a hot button issue for many state lawmakers and in some cases legislation has already been put in place to regulate their use. But there’s still a long way to go.

Also known as unmanned aerial systems, or by the more colloquial term, “drones,” UAS devices are becoming more widely used around the United States by government and law enforcement agencies, commercial business and also private citizens. As the technology becomes more affordable, these devices are turning up everywhere; over residential areas, aerial photography of sporting events, even delivering packages. All of these activities raise questions of privacy invasion and how much is too much.

At the time of this article, Ohio still has no specific laws governing the use of drones but, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Ohio enacted HB 292 creating the aerospace and aviation technology committee. One of the committee’s duties is to research and develop aviation technology including unmanned aerial vehicles.” So, there’s a committee; great.

At present, police departments can use drones in most states to snoop pretty much anywhere they want, and in many regions without the pesky bother of obtaining a warrant first. Drones can also be used by the federal government for the purposes of gathering domestic intelligence. Up to now, there are few “official” limitations on U.S. Government (and military) use of UAS devices to spy on its own citizens, without cause or due process of any kind.

dronesSo until there are clear areas of regulatory legislation, what rights do individual citizens have to protect themselves from the prying robotic eyes of a drone? The answer to that is murky at best, and property law is extremely complicated so it’s tough to know who actually owns the airspace above.

A Slate.com article from October 2014 reports that man-on-drone violence is actually on the rise; that means people are actually shooting the machines right out of the air, sometimes just for the sport of it.

The article shared one story about a New Jersey man who was brought up on unlawful weapons charges for shooting down a drone over his property. The article was unclear about whether the area where the incident took place was rural, commercial or residential. There was also no mention of charges related to what he shot down.

As some states enact technology-related laws and regulations, others have done nothing. Many of the laws that have been enacted are also confusing as to personal responsibility or liability.

In Tennessee for example, SB 1777 makes it a class C misdemeanor for any private entity to use a drone to conduct video surveillance of a person who is hunting or fishing without their consent. So to illustrate how ridiculous this is: if Bob is hunting on Bill’s property without permission and Bill uses a drone to monitor Bob’s activity, Bill is guilty of a crime, but Bob is not?  How’s that for pointless?

Drones and other UAS devices bring about yet one more issue where the technology has advanced faster than the wisdom of the people and the legislators. But what about personal rights until laws are enacted? Do private citizens have the right to take matters in to their own hands? Is it OK to shoot down a drone in an area where firearm use is legal? What if it’s brought down with a slingshot, a boomerang, a whip (sorry, had to include that one) – or even another drone?

It seems likely that if someone destroyed a drone its owner would have some kind of civil litigation options to recover damages. However, UAS operators should keep in mind that, for the most part, firearms are still legal to use in rural areas and an intrusive drone might just go the way of Amelia Earhart.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer and CNN.com iReports contributor. More at deerinheadlines.com.