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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wisconsin Senate Passes Bill Restricting Private and Government Drone Use

The Associated Press reports that a Wisconsin bill restricting the use of drones was passed by the state senate on Tuesday. The full text of the bill appears here. Here is the analysis of the bill by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference bureau:

This bill restricts the use of drones. The bill defines a drone as a powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic vehicle lift, and can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely.
Under the bill, no law enforcement agency may use a drone that is equipped with video or audio recording equipment to collect evidence or information in a criminal investigation without first obtaining a search warrant. The bill allows a law enforcement agency to use a drone without a search warrant if it is necessary to do so for certain emergency purposes, including to locate an escaped prisoner, to aid in a search and rescue mission, or to prevent imminent harm to a person or the imminent destruction of evidence. Under the bill, evidence obtained by a drone in violation of the law is not admissible in a criminal proceeding. 
Under the bill, a person who sells, possesses, or uses a weaponized drone is guilty of a Class H felony, and may be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to six years, or both. The bill prohibits a person, except a law enforcement officer who has a search warrant or is acting for a permissible emergency purpose, from using a drone that is equipped with video or audio recording equipment to photograph, record, or otherwise observe another individual in a place where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Anyone who does so is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, and may be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to nine months, or both.
You can compare this bill to Washington's laws restricting drone use and Hawaii's proposed bill on the subject which I discuss here.

The bill is particularly interesting to me because of the portion that restricts the use of drones by law enforcement. The Supreme Court has held that it is not a search for police to observe somebody's yard by taking photographs from a plane in permitted airspace. The Wisconsin law would not only prohibit similar observations by drones, but would also seem to ban the use of drones to carry out observations in more public areas. Any information collected by drones designed to detect speeding vehicles or monitor violent protests would be inadmissible in court if there is no warrant.

One potential shortcoming of the bill is its failure to define what a "weaponized" drone is. Many drones can cause injuries if they are not used properly -- they could fall on people, and at least one person has been killed by a crashed remote-control helicopter. Is a drone weaponized because it has spinning blades? Do these blades need to be configured in a way that is particularly likely to injure people? These are questions the bill leaves unanswered.

(H/T: The Drone Times)

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