Wyo, NC legislatures eye laws on UAS uses

By Patrick C. Miller | September 11, 2014

Two more state legislatures are following the trend of considering laws for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) aimed at protecting privacy and outlining law enforcement uses.

North Carolina’s legislature is examining measures dealing with safety and privacy issues in addition to the UAS industry’s economic benefits. Although the Wyoming legislature won’t be in session until next January, its Joint Judiciary Committee is considering a draft bill that would prohibit law enforcement from using UAS without first obtaining a warrant.

Under the Appropriations Act of 2014, North Carolina’s General Assembly is tackling the issues of UAS surveillance and advanced imaging technologies. The legislative Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems—responsible for studying safety and privacy issues, as well as the economic benefits of UAS—introduced measures in an earlier bill (HB 1099) and the appropriations act.

Last June, the North Carolina House passed HB 1099. The bill makes it a felony for unmanned aircraft operators to “willfully damage, disrupt or interfere” with a manned aircraft in motion or to use a UAV with a weapon attached.

The bill also makes it a misdemeanor to use UAS for hunting or fishing or to use a UAV for commercial purposes without a license from the Aviation Division of North Carolina’s Department of Transportation.

Addressing the privacy issue, HB 1099 says UAS cannot be used to photograph people, property without consent and for purposes other than “newsgathering, newsworthy events or events or places to which the general public is invited.”

The bill also says, ““Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person, entity, or State agency shall use an unmanned aircraft system to do any of the following: Photograph an individual, without the individual’s consent, for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating the photograph.”

The Appropriations Act of 2014 adds that, “Any person who is the subject of unwarranted surveillance, or whose photograph is taken in violation of the provisions of this section, shall have a civil cause of action against the person, entity, or State agency that conducts the surveillance or that uses an unmanned aircraft system to photograph for the purpose of publishing or otherwise disseminating the photograph.”

HB 1099 says law enforcement agencies can use UAS during criminal investigations, terrorism scenarios, court-warranted situations, and within other legal means. The North Carolina measures also covers the training of UAS operators, requiring them to acquire a license through the Division of Aviation of the state Department of Transportation.

In Wyoming, the state’s American Civil Liberties Union supports a requirement for law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before conducting a UAS search.

However, the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police believes the courts have already addressed the issue in rulings on evidence gathered from conventional aircraft. The organization believes that UAS should be treated no differently.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, Wyo., co-chairman of the Joint Judiciary Committee, believes that most committee members support for the proposed measure. The bill has been drafted and—if approved by the committee—it could be introduced during the next legislative session.