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Friday, February 21, 2014

Proposed Iowa Legislation for Regulating Drone Use

Continuing my trend of commenting on state legislation regulating drone use (see here for my discussion of Wisconsin's proposed legislation and here for Washington's law and Hawaii's proposed law), I have found that Iowa is another state that has recently proposed legislation to regulate the use of drones.

The Des Moines Register reports:

Senate File 2157 would allow Iowa law enforcement agencies to use drones to collect evidence, providing they have a warrant. It would also allow others to use drones equipped with cameras and video recording equipment to conduct surveillance, providing permission was granted from the property owner, said Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant.
The full text of the bill is available here.

While Senator Taylor's interpretation of the bill is positive, the bill is notable in the behavior it restricts. Similar to legislation that recently passed in Wisconsin's senate, the Iowa bill would restrict police use of drones for surveillance, which would restrict them from carrying out activities that they would probably be permitted to otherwise conduct with the use of a helicopter or plane. Police officers can typically use planes or helicopters to gather photographic evidence from the ground, or information on whether a vehicle is speeding, but using similar evidence obtained by drones would be prohibited by this bill.

Moreover, the bill prohibits the private use of drones to "conduct surveillance" of other parties without the consent of those parties. The bill does not define what "surveillance" means. While use of a drone to maliciously spy on a neighbor or a stranger should be restricted, drones may be equipped with cameras to take high quality video from the air (see, for example, this recently-posted video of whales -- taken with a drone). Here in Los Angeles, personal drones are a common sight. I would not be surprised if people flying their drones on UCLA's campus had cameras attached to their drones.

Would it be prohibited surveillance to fly a drone with an attached camera, and to incidentally shoot video of other, non-consenting people in the process? A restrictive interpretation of "surveillance" may prevent incidental recording activity from being criminalized. But the language of the law is open, and that restrictive interpretation is certainly not the only interpretation available. More preferable would be language similar to Wisconsin's bill, which would criminalize taking images or video of people using a drone when those other people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Register notes that the law faces an uphill battle due to a lack of strong public opinion on the matter. It will be interesting to see if it gets any more attention. If the bill ends up getting passed, I hope that it first undergoes some revision that makes its scope more reasonable.

UPDATE - 2/26/2014

The bill has passed in the Iowa House with overwhelming support (87-12). It moves on to the Senate with lawmakers stressing that changes to the bill are likely before it becomes law.

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