Two more states eye drone use limits

Louisiana and Pennsylvania could become the latest states to impose restrictions on the use of commercial drone aircraft over their airspace.

The Louisiana state legislature is considering two separate proposals to restrict the use of commercial drones in certain circumstances. One of the bills, (SB 356), sponsored by Se. Mack "Bodi" White Jr., a Republican from East Baton Rouge Parish, seeks to prohibit drones from flying over chemical plants, water treatment facilities, gas and oil storage and delivery facilities, telecommunications networks and other critical infrastructure.

The bill allows for fines and prison sentences of up to six months for those who violate the ban. Repeat offenders would face prison sentences of up to a year and bigger fines.

The state senate passed White's bill 35-1 on Monday. It now heads to the House for consideration.

The second bill (SB 330) proposed by Sen. Dan Claitor, a Republican from Baton Rouge, is the Deterrence of Reconnaissance Over Noncriminal Entities (download PDF), or DRONE Act.

That bill, which has been steadily advancing through the Senate, prohibits private drone operators from capturing images of individuals or of private property without explicit permission.

Those who capture, disclose, display, distribute or use an image in violation of the law will face fines and prison sentences of up to six months. Each image, captured in violation of the law would be considered a separate offense.

Both bills provide exceptions for drone use by law enforcement authorities, the military and first responders. Claitor's bill also allows critical infrastructure operators and other government entities to use drones for tasks like inspecting and maintaining utility facilities, for utility routing purposes and for surveying the scene of a catastrophe.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Pennsylvania are considering a bill introduced earlier this month that seeks to prohibit the use of drones in a way that interferes with hunting, fishing and boating activities in the state.

The bill (SB. 1334) would ban the use of drones that could disturb fish in their natural habitat, or block or impede individuals engaged in fishing, hunting and boating.

Nearly all states have proposed legislation and resolutions designed to curb commercial drone use over their airspace since President Barack Obama signed the controversial Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 into law.

The FAA bill essentially permits the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over U.S. airspace. It authorizes the FAA to issue licenses for the commercial use of UAVs in the U.S. Over the next few years, the agency is expected to license tens of thousands of commercial drones in the U.S., a prospect that has prompted widespread privacy and security concerns.

The move has set off alarm bells among privacy and civil rights advocates and lawmakers in numerous states who fear that unchecked use of drones will enable unprecedented privacy violations and persistent mass surveillance by the government.

Drone lobbyists like the powerful Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and others have insisted the privacy concerns are overblown. They have pointed to the numerous benefits that drones offer in areas like law enforcement, traffic regulation, crop monitoring and real estate.

The lobbying appears to have done little to stop states from trying to limit drone use in their states. In 2013 alone, as many as 43 states introduced a total of 130 bills and resolutions seeking drone limits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

By year-end, 13 states had enacted 16 new drone laws, while another 11 had adopted resolutions limiting the use of drones in some circumstances, according to the NCSL.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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