Magazine article State Legislatures

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superdrone

Magazine article State Legislatures

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superdrone

Article excerpt

Most Americans know drones as unmanned, 27-foot-long aircraft the U.S. military uses to monitor borders or to find, photograph and kill terrorists.

But drones of all sizes are fast showing up in other settings, as well. Police in several states have enlisted small, unarmed drones to photograph crime scenes and track suspects. College journalism students have used them to help report droughts. Experts say drones--controlled from the ground and sometimes weighing less than five pounds--soon may routinely fight fires, monitor avalanches, film movies, track wildlife, survey crops, find lost people, detect gas spills, perform safety checks on trains and even deliver medical supplies--or pizzas--across town.

But Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, as they are formally called, raise difficult privacy and safety concerns. Legislatures in at least 39 states have grappled with how to regulate them and where to draw the line between legitimate surveillance and illegal snooping. In April, Virginia enacted a two-year moratorium on police use of drones, except in emergencies, and Idaho passed a law stating police must get probable-cause warrants before using surveillance drones. Idaho's law also prohibits anyone from using a drone to photograph private property without the owner's written permission.

In 2013, NCSL has tracked more than 80 bills and resolutions concerning drones.

Several are similar to Idaho's law, requiring police to obtain warrants before using drones, says Rich Williams, an NCSL criminal justice policy expert. …

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