Iowa lawmakers discuss limiting drone use

State does not currently have laws concerning drone use

Published: January 30 2014 | 6:00 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:55 am in

State agencies or individuals' use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to gather information could face regulation under legislation discussed by Iowa House lawmakers. Lawmakers said with the advancements and accessibility of drone technology it’s important to protect the public and their privacy.

“I think this is such an important issue as technology increases and drones become cheaper these can be used as harassment...not only by state agencies but by private individuals,” said Rep. Clel Baulder, R-Greenfield. “That’s why we’re moving this forward.”

House File 427 discussed at a subcommittee Thursday would prevent state agencies and individuals from using these remote-operated vehicles, often referred to as drones, from monitoring, recording or harassing individuals.

Iowa does not currently have laws concerning drone use. In 2013, 13 states enacted drone-related legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Law enforcement agencies would be required to obtain a search warrant to allow the use of drones to gather information or in a criminal investigation.

Ankeny Police Chief Gary Mikulec, also with the Iowa Police Chiefs Association, said although he’s not aware of Iowa law enforcement utilizing the unmanned aerial vehicles the caution against legislation that could hinder safety procedures in the future.

“When I look at what we presently do there’s so many possibilities to use [drones] and effectively use our time better and personnel better and create a safer environment for our police officers,” he said.

Mikulec rattled off several scenarios where police officials could use drone assistance including aerial observances of car crashes, standoffs, finding missing children or oversee crowds at parades or festivals.

The legislation does give state agencies and law enforcement ability to use drones in an emergency situation where an “imminent threat” to life or safety exists, a search warrant is obtained, or used on public property.

The proposal also limits individual use of drones  to obtain information or data on another person or private property "with intent to conduct surveillance, or to harass, follow, or intimidate another person." The drones could not be equipped with weapons or capabilities to emit sounds.

Baulder said drone legislation was proposed last year but died.  Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jarad Klein,R-Keota, said he remains positive legislation will be passed this year.

“I think we’re going to get it done here and we’ll probably have to address it in the future because technology is going to continuously change,” he said. “And as it gets less expensive it’s easier for bad actors to abuse it and make it harder for the good people that aren’t trying to misuse that stuff.”

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