Drones in Iowa

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January 23, 2014

What is a drone?

A drone is an aircraft that is operated without human piloting inside or on the aircraft. Drones come in various shapes and sizes, and they can be remote controlled or pre-programed. The technical name for drone is “unmanned aerial vehicle,” or UAE.

What can a drone do?

Drones can be outfitted with any technology imaginable – cameras, infrared/night vision, heat sensors, or weapons – both lethal and non-lethal. Drones are currently being developed that are small enough to fly into homes, take and transmit pictures and video, camouflage with their environments, and even recharge themselves from a telephone wire or the sun.

Why do we need drone legislation now?

Police departments are already acquiring drone technology. Until the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, the FAA has kept domestic drone use at bay through strict regulations. But Congress has since required the FAA to open up domestic airspace much more widely to drones by 2015. So, this is the last legislative session to enact drone legislation before domestic airspace is opened to drones. Once drones are here, it will be extremely difficult to regulate them.

What can we do to protect our privacy?

Drone use over private property, including curtilage (front and back yard), should occur only with a search warrant based on probable cause – the same standard used to search someone’s house or business. We should implement data retention limits, prohibiting the retention, sharing or identification or identifiable images of individuals who are not the target of the ongoing investigation that justified the drone deployment. That means, if a drone is authorized to spy on one home, it shouldn’t spy on every other house on the way there from the police station.

Additionally, there should be a prohibition on repurposing collected information, that way; information collected for one purpose cannot be used for another purpose.

What can we do to protect our safety?

Prevent both public and private drones from carrying weapons; an officer on the ground has a very different perspective on whether force is necessary and what kind of force is appropriate.

What are the benefits of drone use?

There are a wide variety of beneficial drone uses, like firefighting, chemical and HAZMAT detection, monitoring of pollution, pipelines, wildlife, traffic, and floods, search and rescue, delivering medical supplies to remote areas, etc.

What about private drone use?

Unlike the government, private drone users have free speech rights that could be implicated by bans on drone use. However, existing privacy torts and peeping tom laws already cover many of the abuses from private drone users. A good example would be a law preventing a neighbor using a telephoto lens from taking photos of you; that same law would prevent your neighbor from doing the same with their drone.

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