What States Are the Drones Watching?

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
What States Are the Drones Watching?

The National Conference of State Legislature reports on the status of state laws restricting the use of drones.

State legislatures are beginning to understand their critical role in protecting citizens from exposure to the never-blinking eye of government.

From coast to coast, lawmakers are proposing bills and resolutions restricting the use of drones over states’ sovereign airspace.

In a report published this week, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) tallied the number of states where drone-regulating bills are pending or passed.

In 2013, 43 states introduced 118 bills and resolutions concerning UAS (unmanned aircraft system) issues. So far, 16 bills have been enacted in 13 states and 14 resolutions have been adopted in 10 states. Common issues addressed in the legislation include defining what a UAS or drone is, their use by law enforcement or other state agencies, their use by the general public, the formation of study committees and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test site application process.

The list of states whose legislatures have enacted some form of drone restricting law begins with Virginia. The NCSL reports that

On April 3, 2013, Virginia enacted the first state drone laws in the country with the passage of HB 2012 and SB 1331. The new laws prohibit drone use by any state agencies “having jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement or regulatory violations” or units of local law enforcement until July 1, 2015. Numerous exceptions to the ban are enumerated including enabling officials to deploy drones for Amber Alerts, Blue Alerts, use by the National Guard, by higher education institutions and search and rescue operations. The enacted bills also require the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and other state agencies to research and develop model protocols for drone use by law enforcement in the state. They are required to report their findings to the General Assembly and governor by Nov. 1, 2013.

Other state laws fall along the spectrum from nearly outright prohibition on the use of drones to conduct unwarranted surveillance to milder, more liberal restrictions. Much attention was paid to the law signed this summer in the Lone Star State.

Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a bill into law June 14 that curtails the power of law enforcement and government to use drones to conduct surveillance on citizens of his state.

HB 912 — the Texas Privacy Act — charges with a Class C misdemeanor any private or public entity that “uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in this state with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image.”

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Photo of U.S. Customs and Border Protection drone: AP Images

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