Iowa's Department of Public Safety recently released a report on drones. The full text of the report is available here. A bill passed back in May called for this report, which would survey whether Iowa's laws should be modified to account for drones and to develop guidelines for drone use.
I think that the report's position on private drone use is sensible. The report notes that drone safety regulations are covered by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. The report continues, pointing out that existing laws against trespass and invasion of privacy can restrict invasive drone use by private parties. The report also notes that it may be best to restrict drones "as regulation is needed rather than in a preemptive matter." This sort of approach will help drone technology develop without complicated or repetitive laws that may hinder the free use of drone technology.
I do think that the report misstates Iowa's legislative restrictions on government drone use. Iowa's law governing drones is a bit strange, since it is a mix of restriction and deregulation of government drone use. Section 321.492B of the Iowa Code prohibits the government from using drones in "traffic enforcement" situations. As I have previously argued, it is unclear how far this prohibition extends. While officers may not use drones to spot traffic violations, are they prohibited from using drones to document the scene of a traffic collision or hit and run after the collision has taken place?
In non-traffic enforcement situations, agencies can use evidence obtained through drones whenever an exception to the Fourth Amendment search warrant requirement exists. As I have pointed out several times on this blog, this sort of exception essentially permits law enforcement agencies to use drones without any meaningful restrictions, since drones can still be used to observe people's public movements and the exterior of their homes.
The report, however, claims that this law "contemplates that a search warrant must be obtained, or that evidence that the government has gathered with an unmanned aircraft would be suppressed." While Iowa's law calls for a warrant when the government uses drones, the exception to the warrant requirement is so broad that the warrant requirement does not meaningfully restrict government drone use.
The report is worth reading in full, and its discussion of FAA regulations and state trespassing and privacy laws will likely apply to other states that are contemplating drone regulation.