June 17, 2013

Drone Legislation All the Rage; Varies Widely Across 43 States, According to WestlawNext

Only 18 states seek to limit use of drones by non-law enforcement personnel

EAGAN, Minn. – Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, have been a hotly debated topic in the political arena leading to proposed or enacted legislation in 43 states, according to WestlawNext, the nation’s leading online legal research service.

The data researched and compiled from WestlawNext through May 25, 2013, highlights the wide variation in legislation. States are looking to better define what a drone is, who can and cannot operate or use them, and how they can be used. Common issues surrounding drones include privacy, use by law enforcement and emergency exceptions, among others.

As legislation around drones continues to increase, there currently are just seven states, along with the District of Columbia, that do not have any proposed legislation surrounding drones.

Here is a breakdown of what states have enacted or are currently proposing:

  • 39 states have laws or bills addressing search warrants for law enforcement’s use of drones.
  • 18 states have laws or bills that limit use of drones for surveillance by non-law enforcement personnel.
  • 17 states have laws or bills that prohibit weaponized drones.
  • 16 states have laws or bills for criminal penalties for violation of their proposed or enacted statutes relating to drones.
  • 20 states have laws or bills for a private right of action by individuals aggrieved by violations of drone rules.
  • 17 states have laws or bills providing exceptions for drone use in case of emergencies.

Among the unique attributes of current drone legislation:

  • Virginia has proposed legislation to make it unlawful to use a drone to “impede the lawful hunting of wild birds or wild animals.”
  • At least three states, North Carolina, Utah and Virginia, have called for the investigation of, or express concern for, the authorized use of drones against U.S. citizens by the U.S. government.
  • Some states, such as Nevada, Ohio, Texas and Washington, are encouraging the development of drone technology within their borders.
  • At least two states, Nevada and Washington, noted tax incentives or abatements in their legislation for aircraft businesses or the aerospace industry. The legislature in Nevada also endorsed “the promotion of efforts to support the establishment of Nevada as the "Silicon Valley" of unmanned aircraft systems education, testing, research and manufacture.”
  • A Massachusetts bill specifically prohibits use of drones to “collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual.”

“There are a number of issues surfaced by the various legislation, but clearly privacy and public safety top the list,” said Michael Carlson, reference attorney at Thomson Reuters. “The wide-ranging points of legislation demonstrate multiple views, perceived opportunities and a variety of concerns surrounding the use and development of drones.”

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with agencies and aviation industry representatives, has been tasked to develop rules and regulations surrounding drone usage. The mandate from Congress includes many recommendations, including: a focus on acceptable standards of operation and certification of drones; ensuring specific drones include a sense-and-avoid capability; and creating standards and requirements for pilots and operators of drones, including registration and licensing requirements.

All research was conducted through WestlawNext, the industry-leading legal research solution from Thomson Reuters. WestlawNext includes the most authoritative collection of primary law, as well as the largest library of analytical resources and current awareness content.

Editor’s Note: For a high-resolution infographic of this data, please visit http://www.legalcurrent.com/?attachment_id=4805, or email email Alex Cook at alex.cook@thomsonreuters.com.  

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