By The Gazette Editorial Board
Drones are once again on the Legislature’s radar.
And we think that’s appropriate, given the rapid advances in unmanned aerial vehicle technology and its potential uses — and misuses. Lawmakers are playing catch-up with the implications of that technology, which has become both sophisticated and readily available.
Bills being considered in the Iowa House and Senate would place restrictions on the use of drones by both government and individuals. They would prohibit the use of drones to monitor, record or harass individuals. Law enforcement agencies could use drones in an emergency situation, such as a natural disaster or a missing person search, but they would have to obtain a warrant from a judge to use drones for surveillance or criminal investigations. Drones would be barred from carrying weapons or emitting sounds.
Similar legislation failed to win passage last year. This year, a House subcommittee has started discussions anew. Currently, Iowa law has no limits on drone use.
Gov. Terry Branstad said last week that he’s willing to consider drone legislation. “We certainly don’t want government spying on people with drones,” Branstad told reporters last week. “On the other hand, there can be legitimate private uses for drones, so I think we’ve got to be very careful and very thoughtful on the way this is dealt with.”
We agree with the governor. Although we’re skeptical of the Legislature’s ability to craft regulations that can keep up with drone technology, it’s clearly worth a try. Thirteen states have drone laws on the books, and adding Iowa to that list makes sense. There should be limits on the use of drones, especially on uses that could violate Iowans’ privacy. But we also recognize the value of drones as a tool in limited circumstances.
It’s going to take a thoughtful legislative approach to balance misgivings about drones with those legitimate, acceptable uses. We hope legislators come up with effective restrictions by the end of this session.
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