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Links, thoughts and research into using drones, UAVs or remotely piloted vehicles for journalism at the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

February 1, 2013 at 3:44pm


Update: Nine states looking to restrict UAV use, more coming

By Daniel Wheaton

While the Federal government and the Federal Aviation Administration mull over laws pertaining to domestic drone use, eight nine states have started to take their own action.

State legislatures across the country have introduced legislation hindering drone usage. Some simply require police to have a warrant, while others go much further.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that about 30,000 commercial and government unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, could be flying over the United States within 10 years. Their sale and servicing is projected to grow into a $90 billion industry. And the FAA has been ordered by Congress to develop safety regulations that would allow routine domestic use of drones by September 2015.

Some state legislatures, however, aren’t so sure about that future vision.


Texas State Rep. Lance Gooden introduced legislation that would make it a misdemeanor to use a UAV to photograph “indiscriminate surveillance,” defined as photographing private property without the consent of the owner. 

According to the Texas Tribune, Gooden’s bill allows law enforcement to use UAVs with a warrant, and exempts property near the Mexican border. 

“It will be a greater burden on the hobbyists, but I think that’s okay,” Gooden told the Tribune. “If you’re asking me to choose between my right to privacy and a hobbyist’s right to take pictures from the sky, my privacy comes first.”


In Nebraska, state Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus introduced the Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act (LB412). The law would prohibit law enforcement from using drones to gather information that could be used against a person in court.

In a Jan. 24 article in the Lincoln Journal Star, Lancaster County Sherriff Terry Wagner said drones would be useful for law enforcement.

“What’s the difference between a drone and a piloted aircraft?” Wagner said. 

“It is also another tool that freedom-loving people don’t need above their houses and their backyards,” Schumacher responded.


Oregon’s UAV bills go much further than most. 

State Sen. Floyd Prozanski and Rep. John Huffman introduced separate bills that restrict the future use of drones by law enforcement and the public. 

"The last thing I think people want to do is look outside their picture window or their bedroom window and see a drone," Prozanski told the The Oregonian on Jan. 30.

Oregon’s senate bill 71 would make possession or control of a drone — including hobby class remote control aircraft and Parrot AR Drones — a criminal misdemeanor, and flying it a class C felony. It also criminalizes:

  • Using a drone to fire a bullet or other projectile
  • Prohibits the use of drones for hunting or stalking game
  • Using a drone for air combat, including kamikaze techniques

The bill also establishes an “Airspace of Oregon” to give the state a more legitimate jurisdiction.

Public organizations may use drones as long as they are documented.


Missouri state Rep. Casey Guernsey’s bill is almost identical to the bill proposed in Nebraska. Law enforcement officers would have to get a warrant before using drones to gather evidence. But it also bans people, organizations and state agencies from using UAVs to conduct surveillance on people, farms or any agricultural operations before obtaining a warrant, seemingly making journalism, environmental data gathering, land use monitoring or a host of other non-surveillance applications illegal.

Guernsey received support from the Missouri’s American Civil Liberties Union.

"As drones become less expensive, our fear is that police and other agencies could use them for fishing expeditions that infringe on an individual’s right to privacy," Gary Brunk, the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri told the Associated Press on Dec. 31. “This bill is simply common-sense regulation.”


A panel of senators passed legislation out of committee that would prohibit the use of drones in Florida for surveillance, except for police with search warrants.

"These issues are about boundaries and there is a line to be drawn, you have to draw the line somewhere and so where I draw the line is having these unmanned drones hovering in the sky and potentially visualizing hundreds of these in the air over Florida at any given moment just surveilling law abiding Floridians," said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Naples, sponsor of the Freedom for Unwarranted Surveillance Act in the Jan. 15 Orlando Sentinel.

Miami police became the first in the country to use drones and the Orange County Sherriff’s Office followed.

Adding an exception to the bill, drones could be used during terrorist attacks or to save a person’s life.


State Rep. Rick Becker introduced a bill that would require warrants for drone pilots. The bill would allow law enforcement to use drones if a warrant is obtained during the investigation of a felony crime, or to monitor “an environmental or weather-related catastrophe.”

Drones could not be armed with weapons or used to investigate misdemeanor crimes or traffic infractions.

Becker introduced the bill on Jan. 28, it was read and sent to the House Judiciary Committee. 


Virginia’s drone bill is the result of strange bedfellows: the ACLU and the Tea Party.

The bill would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before gathering information. It would prohibit the retention of data, video and photos by police, and it would require them to alert the public that drones are flying in their area.


Sacramento Sen. Alex Padilla introduced a bill on Dec. 12 that would regulate the domestic use of drones

“As this technology advances and becomes more widely used, it is imperative that we have clear standards in place for their safe and reasonable use and operation in order to protect the public. I believe that there are legitimate reasons for concern about privacy, civil liberties and public safety,” Padilla wrote on his website.

The bill does not cite specifics, it merely sets the stage for future legislation.


Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey recently filed a bill that would require the FAA to improve privacy provisions governing drone surveillance. The bill, Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act, would limit the government’s ability to use information gathered by drones

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul introduced the “Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act of 2011” during the last Congress. The bill allows for the use of drones within the Fourth Amendment and gives individuals the right to sue if they feel their rights have been infringed.


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