It came from the sky: lawmakers look at regulating drones

[private]More drones than ever before are being flown by public and private operators, and more are on the way – the Federal Aviation Administration predicts that one million of them will be sold during the upcoming holiday season.

That trend is pushing Georgia lawmakers to the inevitable position of considering bills that will regulate and restrict the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

“We’ve got to have some regulations in place to protect public safety,” said Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), who chairs a House study committee that’s doing preliminary work on the drone issue.

In fact, Georgia has already taken an initial step towards regulating drones. The Georgia Building Authority in June adopted a resolution that prohibits drones within five miles of the heliport near the state capitol building and in the vicinity of the governor’s mansion, a ban that has drawn criticism from drone enthusiasts.

During a committee hearing Wednesday, Tanner noted concerns about near-misses involving drones and aircraft at airports, as well as complaints from homeowners about drones flying over their property and taking unauthorized photos.

TV and movie production sites where shows like “The Walking Dead” are filmed are also increasingly subject to being buzzed by drones.

“With the drone technology, we get more and more of those complaints,” Tanner said. “There’s not a lot of things currently in Georgia law that can be done to stop that.”

Representatives of local governments and law enforcement agencies told the committee they are using drones more frequently, urging legislators to give them some flexibility on the issue.

“There are uses for drones at the local level, for surveying and GIS (geographic information system) mapping in particular,” said Debra Nesbit, a lobbyist for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG). “We really don’t want to see any unfunded mandates, obviously, but we would like to maintain local control.”

“We do not want to see restrictions put in that would hamper law enforcement’s ability to use this very helpful technology,” GBI Director Vernon Keenan said. “Drones can keep officers out of dangerous places.”

For example, police can use drones to check out a suspected explosive device rather than send in a live officer, Keenan said.

As law enforcement agencies use drones more widely, the committee was told, they will still have to apply for search warrants to protect citizens’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“They clearly can’t use them (drones) to go into homes,” said Chuck Spahos, director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council.

“If there’s an expectation of privacy, you have to get a search warrant (in other states), and I think that’s a good requirement,” Tanner said. “Drones bring a whole new concept to that.”

“I don’t think any law enforcement agency would have a problem with getting a search warrant in those situations that aren’t an emergency,” Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said. “I don’t want drones flying over my house if they don’t have a legitimate purpose.”

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: ACCG , drones , House study committee , Kevin Tanner , Vernon Keenan