'No Photos From The Sky' Bill Trimmed Back, But Still Could Create Felons Out Of Kids Playing With Toy Drones

from the silly-law dept

A few weeks back, we wrote about an absolutely ridiculous bill that was proposed in New Hampshire that would have made it illegal to do any aerial photography, if the images showed any “residential dwelling.” As we noted, this would make things like various mapping services illegal. Given the criticism, it appears that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Neal Kurt, decided to rewrite it, limiting it to just “drones,” after admitting that the whole idea for the bill came after he saw a toy drone for sale in the mall. Kurt appears to have an overactive imagination when it comes to those toy drones, because he’s worried about them firing lasers, if the text of the bill (HB 619-FN) is any indication:

II. “Drone” means an unmanned flying machine that is capable of:

(a) Capturing images or sounds of objects or people on the ground, in or about buildings or structures, or in the air;
(b) Intercepting communications on the ground, in or about buildings and structures, or in the air; or
(c) Firing a bullet, LASER-type ray, other projectile or any kind of lethal or non-lethal weapon.

Unfortunately, the bill is still way too broad. While mapping programs may be legal, any use of a drone to photograph a person or people becomes a felony. Also if you photograph the inside of a building. From the sky. Maybe that’s via the lasers. The only way around this law is to get “prior, written consent” from the person photographed.

This is the kind of bill you get when you have a politician with an overactive imagination, who sees a toy drone and can only think “bad things will happen with this,” and refuses to consider the many cool things that can be done with drones today. Chris Anderson built a whole company after being inspired to build drones with his kids. If this bill passes, and he’s in New Hampshire with his kids, having fun, teaching them things about building things, physics, aerodynamics and more, they could all become felons if their drone takes a photo of someone without “prior, written consent.” That’s just silly.

Thankfully, it sounds like most of the people who went to a hearing on the bill spoke out against it — including a Brigadier General from the US Army who pointed out that the federal government has “exclusive sovereignty” over airspace, and the State of New Hampshire does not.

First to testify was a Brigadier General from the US Army. He began by firmly reminding the committee that the airspace above New Hampshire was not owned by New Hampshire, but by the United States of America, and therefore controlled by the FAA. One of the committee members challenged him as to where that authority came from. The General was kind enough to quote chapter and verse. There were no more questions.

It’s a bit disappointing to see that the ACLU is pledging “strong support” for the bill. Yes, I understand the concerns and worries about domestic drone use by governments for surveillance purposes — and I support efforts by various groups to build transparency and clear rules around such usage — but this bill goes way beyond that.

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Comments on “'No Photos From The Sky' Bill Trimmed Back, But Still Could Create Felons Out Of Kids Playing With Toy Drones”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“This is the kind of bill you get when you have a politician with an overactive imagination, who sees a toy drone and can only think “bad things will happen with this,” and refuses to consider the many cool things that can be done with drones today.”

Once-up-on-a-time, state laws applied only to people and action in that state.

In today’s world pictures taken outside New Hampshire become viable in New Hampshire which according to current legal reasoning gives what ever jurisdiction over whoever post such pictures on the internet.

Michael (profile) says:


(b) Intercepting communications on the ground, in or about buildings and structures, or in the air;

I would love to know how you could have an unmanned flying machine that did not intercept communications from the ground or air. Wouldn’t that just be either an out-of-control flying death-trap or self-aware flying machine intent on killing humans?

Oh wait…I suppose you could still have a paper airplane.

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Re: Drone

Think about football: when you catch a ball meant for the other team, that’s an interception. When you catch your QB’s throw, that’s just receiving a pass.

It’s the same in radiospeak. Intercepting communications is defined as receiving communications not intended for you.

Receiving radio control transmissions intended to control that device does not count as interception.

Anonymous Coward says:

Compos Mentis be damned, everyone on an almost daily basis is a felon under all the laws and regulations with the force of law that are on the books today.

Ignorance of the law is an excuse today.

If your ever get on a jury and the law seems unjust to you you have the power and the right to nullify it with a not guilty vote.

special-interesting (profile) says:

If I understand property rights the landowner has ownership or eminent control of to 1000 feet. I believe its called personal airspace. Most of the early airplanes never got above 1000 ft and surely were a common nuisance (conjecture). Over 1k ft its FAA territory.

It would be nice to be able to have some device or trap to capture and analyses any aerial invading device entering personal airspace. Some model rocket like device with a range-finder or primitive radar and a large deployable net. You would need the range-finder to verify a less than 1000 ft entry. Either that or barrage balloons. (the neighbors will definitely complain)

If it was your neighbors kids mischief you would give it back, if you knew their parents would punish them, appropriately. If it was government they would have to show a search warrant or get sued and of course the invading device is held for evidence.

Except for legislation prohibiting government spying on citizens and or property have no good tech solution. Public awareness and strict, draconian even, rules for government is only true solution. Some rules for citizens also but these might be best to leave up to the civil courts. Despite the conflict of airspace interest this bill is interesting anyway. Can we get personal airspace raised to 1500-2000 ft (excepting landing and takeoff)?

Since cars and aircraft are quickly going automated-remote control combination this bill would also make it illegal to take pictures out of future AI controlled airplanes. We already have automated guidance for foggy weather. Most likely all would both communicate their locations and get locations (hopefully (some sort of) local wifi and somewhat private) of other aircraft in same area thus always have some elements of remote control.

Why all the sudden criminalization of every aspect of everyday life the last 15 years or so? Have the civil courts failed us that much? Is this some form of constitutional/legal/bureaucratic ignorance of voters in general? Has law become so removed from the average consciousness of the voter it becomes an act of faith on which candidate to support?

Anonymous Coward says:

Drones can be used to drop water balloons and other pranks too, that is not the point.

Youtube: Water Balloon Bomb Drop

There are serious uses for it.

Testing of integrity of infra-structure using sound waves or ultrasound, which in tall structures is safer to use a drone to go up there.

Comparison of Pulse-Echo-Methods for Testing Concrete

Not only that, but search and rescue operations, would they need permission to photograph houses or film them from above?

Police work(I am not a fan of the police) but I do understand that they too have valid uses when they are not snooping or fooling around with it.

That on the public side, on the private side, drones can be used for home security, realstate sales people are making use of them too to show houses, amateur cartographers, kids learning physics, teachers trying to teach those kids, parents wanting to encourage those kids, party displays and the like. Cameras enhance the maneuverability of the (semi)automated aerial vehicle, just take a look at the latest crop dusters to hit the market, without a camera to see where to dust the operator would have a view of the vehicle and area.

Yes there is potential for privacy issues, but I can see all the good that can come out of it not just the bad.

So this appears to me to be one of those cases where people should consider taking the good with the bad.

If you want autonomous crop dusters, autonomous structural checks, electrical grid checking, security, mapping and other things you either allow it or make exceptions, the other alternative is pass the law the way it is and see all those things go away.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think this is one of those privacy vs freedom conflicts. I do think there is a privacy issue here. If you’re in your backyard, at least right now, you have an expectation of privacy and may not want drones in your back yard taking pictures. At the same time the freedom to take Arial pictures is important. This is something that needs to be considered carefully on both sides of the issue.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Expectation of privacy in your back yard? Here’s my sister-in-law’s back yard.

(OK, I lie. I don’t even have a sister-in-law. That’s just a random house in Irvine.)

And police and news helicopters have been flying around for many years. I have two mildy amusing stories about surveillance choppers circling me and my friends.

How about this neighborhood’s expectation of privacy?

Or me making sure the neighborhood kids were out of the line of fire while they watched me shoot bow from over the fence.

Your back yard may not be considered a public place, but there is still a limited expectation of privacy.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re:

“Why not? The government plans on using them no doubt – too much competition for them?”

My thoughts exactly. When it was just the US using them on foreign soil, the government acted with impunity, violating other sovereign nations’ airspace and causing a great deal of collateral damage. Now that Russia, China and others are developing their own drones, all of a sudden, Obama and his administration are talking about setting down guidelines for their usage.

From what I heard, during testing, some drones would malfunction or crash-land. One even managed to bump into another craft in the sky. Not very reassuring. What happens if one goes down in your back yard? Does somebody come along in a van, waltz onto your property and collect it? Also, suppose one of these things crash-lands on somebody or damages property? They’ll probably accuse someone of tampering with it, so as to deflect blame.

But all of that aside, why does our government want about 30,000 of these things up in our sky by 2020? So it’s okay when the government flies around spying on people, but should a citizen uses one for similar purposes, suddenly it’s a problem? Explain that one to me.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Regardless of the actuall bill, I’m just happy the General could quote the law. That’s more than the politicians could do. It’s more than most cops can do. You’d think the people in charge or writing laws would know which laws they can write, and the people enforcing laws would know which laws they are enforcing. I really think it ought to be mandatory that every law enforcement officer be able to quote you the law they are enforcing, and every legislator ought to be know the laws that apply to them (federal, state, county, city, etc) forward and backward. If they can’t because there’s too much, then maybe simplifying the law books should be their first order of business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Poor Politician

I feel bad for the guy.

I mean, after all, Politicians only do two things

1.Give speeches to raise money

2.Make laws

The voters hired him to do those two things and now he is being horribly criticized for essentially doing his job.

He probably didn’t realized that he was supposed to propose sensible laws.

Instead of attacking the use of drones for invading your privacy, he should have proposed that we outlaw Helicopters, small planes, balloons, jet aircraft and satellites AND flying lawn chairs with passengers carrying a point and shoot camera and a pellet riffle.

Cut’em some slack, huh!

special-interesting (profile) says:

Aerial photos are actually legally and civilly tricky. Most aerial photo firms like late morning to early afternoon winter time slots so as not to catch the summer afternoon nude sunbather accidentally and not have to worry about deciduous tree foliage. (there are shadow issues also) As any regular photographer knows it takes tack and restraint to, build the trust needed to, survive.

For any aerial shots, including the clever kite cam and other flying lawn-chair variety (I love it instantly, definitely on the want now list.) photos, we have legitimate privacy issues when a private moment is inadvertently caught on camera. These photos cannot be used without incurring significant civil liability (getting sued and rightfully so.) Especially if the photographer does this repeatedly which might (already) be more than a civil offense of quite a different matter.

The random circling of police helicopters (if real) sounds like a form of harassment. Many cops love the opportunities of voyeurism and even the appearance of such behavior should be noticed. General privacy on your own property should always be respected. Just because anyone has the opportunitiy to view private lives does not mean they should.

For civilians I think all this should be left to civil law. Military and government need strict regulation with sever penalties, including but not limited to, incarceration and fines. I expect more whinny screaming bloody murder cigarette augments from both.

It is important that if you vote for anyone that you tell them what you expect from them.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Will be a fun clash of priorities

Some people are raising the issue of government and police running drones in this country. But, on the other hand, there’s just too much commercial potential with drones for anyone to actually pass laws against them.

I’ve been more concerned with private companies monitoring people than with government monitoring people because I think the private companies monitor more people and collect more data than government. However, I can see some jobs where private companies will be able to do it when government won’t be. The example that comes to my mind is monitoring gun use. The gun lobby might prevent police from monitoring people with guns, but private companies might be able to do that under the radar. If someone is acting weirdly and has access to guns, there might be no legal way to head off potential trouble, but private companies might be able to quietly monitor those people. I mean, there’s already enough info being provided online for companies to detect patterns that might indicate future problems. Keeping track of those people wouldn’t be that hard to do. And if it is done by a private company paying politicians, who are the politicians going to block?

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Outdoors - fair game. Indoors - bad idea.

Using a drone over private property should be treated exactly as if a person was standing in that spot: the same trespassing offenses should apply to unmanned, remote control cameras (whether aerial, on wheels, or on legs.)

I agree that private individuals should not be flying radio-control gunships.

Private parties can’t photograph open spaces or receive radio signals from an unmanned aircraft. Intercepting radio signals is already a protected activity, within certain bounds. It should remain that way.

stimoceiver (profile) says:

everyone needs drones

everyone needs drones. I’m a big fan of John Robb’s idea for a “Drone Net”.

That said, until the FAA can come up with some sort of identifying marking – or “identify friend or foe” for “friendly” or “law enforcement” drones, I would say it should be well within my rights as a citizen to disable and detain any drone that violates the airspace of my own private property.

And you know the very first time some activist uses a drone to spy on a factory farm, the corporations will be clamoring for this right.

I mean what would it really take to knock most non-military drones out of the sky. A few perimeter targetting RADARs or LIDARs and a couple remote aimable tennis ball or baseball training launchers?

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