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Monday, March 3, 2014

Louisiana's Proposed Drone Regulations

SFGate reports:

Louisiana should have limits on the use of unmanned aircraft, so people can't spy on their neighbors and government can't snoop in people's backyards without cause, said a state senator proposing restrictions on drones.

. . .

[State Senator, Dan] Claitor's proposal would prohibit the use of a pilotless aircraft to conduct surveillance on a person or private property and to possess or distribute an image captured through such surveillance. That includes photos, sounds or other information recorded by a drone.

The measure includes 16 exceptions, including for the military, mapping purposes and maintenance of utility services. Law enforcement agencies could use drones if they have a search warrant, are documenting a crime scene, searching for a missing person or responding to a hazardous materials spill.
SB 330 is the main bill that includes the restrictions and exceptions. The full text of the bill is available here. A more limited bill has also been proposed that will prohibit drones from flying over water plants and other critical infrastructure. That other bill can be found here.

SB 330 is the more interesting bill of the two, and in general I think it is pretty good. While the bill's ban is pretty broad, this bill is notable for its numerous exceptions to the broad ban. While the bill prohibits the use of drone-collected images by the government in trials, the bill allows law enforcement officers to collect images with drones if they have a warrant. But even if the officers do not have a warrant, the police can collect images with drones if there is a hot pursuit situation, or if the police are surveying the scene of a recent accident. Moreover, people can collect information from drones that are hovering eight feet off the ground in public places and are using no image-enhancing devices.

Moreover, while SB 330's overall ban is broad, it is nevertheless qualified in a way that avoids over-restriction of typical drone activity. The bill prohibits the collection of an image of an individual or real property, but only if that image is collected "with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image." So even if somebody is flying a drone with a camera that happens to capture the images of individuals or property, there will be no violation of the statute if that person was not specifically intending to conduct surveillance on those individuals or that property. Admittedly, "surveillance" remains undefined, so the scope of the bill is still a bit indeterminate, but the specific intent component certainly seems to be a step in the right direction.

SB 330 may seem cumbersome at first. It is pretty lengthy due to its list of exceptions to its overall ban. But bans that are short and simple tend to either restrict too much drone activity, or too little. This bill strikes a pretty good balance between protecting people's privacy and allowing for the use of drones by private parties and law enforcement.

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