Search This Blog

Monday, May 26, 2014

Iowa's New Drone Law: Vague and Limited, But Brings Hope for Future Improvements

The Des Moines Register reports that Iowa Governor, Terry Branstad, recently signed a number of bills into legislation, including a regulation on the use of drones by law enforcement officers. The full text of the bill is available here. It reads:

Section 1. NEW SECTION. 321.492B Use of unmanned aerial vehicle—prohibition traffic law enforcement.  
The state or a political subdivision of the state shall not use an unmanned aerial vehicle for traffic law enforcement.  
Sec. 2. NEW SECTION. 808.15 Unmanned aerial vehicle—information admissibility. 
Information obtained as a result of the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle is not admissible as evidence in a criminal or civil proceeding, unless the information is obtained pursuant to the authority of a search warrant, or unless the information is otherwise obtained in a manner that is consistent with state and federal law.  
The department of public safety, in consultation with the attorney general, state and local agencies, and other interested organizations, including but not limited to organizations with expertise in unmanned aerial vehicle technology, shall examine whether the Iowa criminal code should be modified to regulate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, shall develop model guidelines for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, and shall report such guidelines to the general assembly no later than December 31, 2014.
I blogged previously about proposed drone legislation in Iowa, but the bill that Branstad signed is far less extensive than that earlier legislation. The only meaningful restriction in the current law is the restriction of drone use for traffic law enforcement. While the law prohibits the use of information obtained by drones in criminal and civil proceedings, the bill allows the use of information that is obtained in "a manner that is consistent with state and federal law," meaning that as long as drones are used in a manner similar to helicopters or planes in non-traffic enforcement contexts, the drone use will be consistent with existing Fourth Amendment law.

For instance, police could use a drone to track a person to see if that person ends up going to locations where criminal activity is known to occur. Drones could also track people who are suspected of crimes to see if those people drive to a location to commit a crime. As long as the drone tracks movements and activities that could be observed by members of the general public, the drone surveillance will be consistent with existing state and federal law.

As the law currently stands, it would appear that law enforcement agencies would not be able to use drones to catch speeding motorists or to spot other traffic violations in Iowa. It is less clear whether this law would prohibit law enforcement officers from using drones to survey the scene of a recent traffic accident, since this type of drone use could be permitted or restricted depending on how broadly the phrase "traffic law enforcement" is interpreted.

It is good to see that the bill calls for further consideration of effective drone regulations, and I hope that the guidelines that are eventually produced are a bit clearer than the current law. It will also be interesting to see if the eventual guidelines end up calling for the regulation of private actors' use of drones.


  1. Nice article! Too bad many offenders do not know the bad consequences of repetitive offenses on the road.
    criminal defence lawyers

  2. I have gone through the site and read all blogs and this is a nice one:

    Aerial Drone Gamma Surveys