In 2014, 35 states considered UAS or UAV (also commonly called drones) bills and resolutions; 10 states enacted new laws.
State UAS Legislation
Alaska enacted HB 255 creating procedures and standards for law enforcement’s use of unmanned aircraft, as well as, regulations for the retention of information collected with UAS. It requires law enforcement agencies to adopt procedures that ensure: the appropriate Federal Aviation Administration flight authorization is obtained; UAS operators are trained and certified; a record of all flights are kept and there is an opportunity for community involvement in the development of the agencies’ procedures. Under the law, police may use UAS pursuant to a search warrant, pursuant to a judicially recognized exception to the warrant requirement and in situations not involving a criminal investigation. Images captured with UAS may be retained by police under the law for training purposes or if it is required as part of an investigation or prosecution. The law also authorizes the University of Alaska to develop a training program for operating UAS. The state senate also adopted a resolution HCR 15 to extend the operating time and expand the duties of the state UAS task force.
Illinois enacted SB 2937 creating regulations for how law enforcement can obtain and use information gathered from a private party’s use of UAS. The law requires police to follow warrant protocols to compel third parties to share information, and if the information is voluntarily given to police, authorities are required to follow the state’s law governing UAS data retention and disclosure. The law also loosens regulations around law enforcement’s use of UAS during a disaster or public health emergency.
Indiana is the first state to enact a UAS law in 2014. HB 1009 creates warrant requirements and exceptions for the police use of unmanned aircraft and real time geo-location tracking devices. It also prohibits law enforcement from compelling individuals to reveal passwords for electronic devices without a warrant. If law enforcement obtains information from an electronic service provider pursuant to a warrant, the provider is immune from criminal or civil liability. The law provides that if police seek a warrant to compel information from media entities and personnel, then those individuals must be notified and given the opportunity to be heard by the court concerning issuance of the warrant. The new law also creates the crime of "Unlawful Photography and Surveillance on Private Property," making it a Class A misdemeanor. This crime is committed by a person who knowingly and intentionally electronically surveys the private property of another without permission. The law also requests that the state's legislative council study digital privacy during the 2014 interim.
Iowa enacted HF 2289, making it illegal for a state agency to use a UAS to enforce traffic laws. The new law requires a warrant, or other lawful means, to use information obtained with UAS in a civil or criminal court proceeding. It also requires the department of public safety to develop guidelines for the use of UAS and to determine whether changes to the criminal code are necessary. The department must report on their findings to the general assembly by Dec. 31, 2014.
Louisiana enacted HB 1029, creating the crime of unlawful use of an unmanned aircraft system. The new law defines the unlawful use of an unmanned aircraft system as the intentional use of a UAS to conduct surveillance of a targeted facility without the owner’s prior written consent. The crime is punishable by a fine of up to 500 dollars and imprisonment for six months. A second offense can be punished by a fine up to 1000 dollars and one year imprisonment.
North Carolina enacted SB 744 creating regulations for the public, private and commercial use of UAS. The new law prohibits any entity from conducting UAS surveillance of a person or private property and also prohibits taking a photo of a person without their consent for the purpose of distributing it. The law creates a civil cause of action for those whose privacy is violated. In addition, the law authorizes different types of infrared and thermal imaging technology for certain commercial and private purposes including the evaluation of crops, mapping, scientific research and forest management. Under the law, the state Division of Aviation is required to create a knowledge and skills test for operating unmanned aircraft. All agents of the state who operate UAS must pass the Division’s knowledge and skills test. The law enables law enforcement to use UAS pursuant to a warrant, to counter an act of terrorism, to oversee public gatherings, or gather information in a public space. The bill creates several new crimes: using UAS to interfere with manned aircraft, a class H felony; possessing an unmanned aircraft with an attached weapon, a class E felony; the unlawful fishing or hunting with UAS, a class 1 misdemeanor; harassing hunters or fisherman with a UAS, a class 1 misdemeanor; unlawful distribution of images obtained with a UAS, a class 1 misdemeanor for; and operating a UAS commercially without a license, a class 1 misdemeanor. The law addresses launch and recovery sites of UAS, prohibiting their launch or recovery from any State or private property without consent. In addition the law extends the state’s current regulatory framework, administered by the chief information officer, for state use of UAS from July to December 31, 2015.
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.
Tennessee has enacted two new laws in 2014. The first, 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. SB 1892 makes it a Class C misdemeanor for a person to use UAS to intentionally conduct surveillance of an individual or their property. It also makes it a crime to possess those images (Class C Misdemeanor) or distribute and otherwise use them (Class B Misdemeanor). The law also identifies 18 lawful uses of UAS, including the commercial use of UAS under FAA regulations, professional or scholarly research and for use in oil pipeline and well safety.
Utah enacted SB 167, regulating the use of UAS by state government entities. A warrant is now required for a law enforcement agency to “obtain, receive or use data” derived from the use of UAS. The law also establishes standards for when it is acceptable for an individual or other non-governmental entity to submit data to law enforcement. The new law provides standards for law enforcement’s collection, use, storage, deletion and maintenance of data. If a law enforcement agency uses UAS, the measure requires that agency submit an annual report on their use to the Department of Public Safety and also to publish the report on the individual agency’s website. The new law notes that it is not intended to “prohibit or impede the public and private research, development or manufacture of unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Wisconsin enacted SB 196, requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using drones in a place where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The law also creates two new crimes; “possession of a weaponized drone” and “use of a drone.” Use of a drone creates a class A misdemeanor for a person who, with intent, observes another individual in a place where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Possession of a weaponized drone is a class H felony.