Bill would restrict drones on La. private property

MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana should have limits on the use of unmanned aircraft, so people can't spy on their neighbors and government can't snoop in people's backyards without cause, said a state senator proposing restrictions on drones.
Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, is asking lawmakers to consider criminalizing the use of drones to photograph people on private property without their permission. He describes it as a method for keeping technological advancements in check and prohibiting abuse.
"I don't want somebody flying a camera into my backyard and taking a look at my barbecue or into my window or anything like that," Claitor said. "Just because you have the technology to take a look in my back window doesn't mean that you should do it."
The bill will be considered in the legislative session that begins March 10. Claitor said it's modeled on a similar measure passed in Texas, which made certain types of drone surveillance a misdemeanor crime.
Several other states have placed restrictions on unmanned aircraft in recent years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
For example, Florida limits the use of drones by law enforcement. Idaho requires warrants for police to use drones and restricts private citizens' use. Illinois demands law enforcement agencies destroy all information gathered by a drone within 30 days, unless there's reasonable suspicion the information contains evidence of criminal activity, according to NCSL.
The Baton Rouge lawmaker said he's not opposed to drones. He said LSU's doing good work on crop management with pilotless aircraft. But he doesn't want privacy to be invaded, and cites the example of couples spying on each other in a divorce case.
"I just don't like the aspect of invading folks' privacy just because they can," he said.
Claitor's proposal would prohibit the use of a pilotless aircraft to conduct surveillance on a person or private property and to possess or distribute an image captured through such surveillance. That includes photos, sounds or other information recorded by a drone.
The measure includes 16 exceptions, including for the military, mapping purposes and maintenance of utility services. Law enforcement agencies could use drones if they have a search warrant, are documenting a crime scene, searching for a missing person or responding to a hazardous materials spill.
Claitor said he doesn't want to prohibit power companies from checking utility lines in a right of way, for example, if that's a cheaper alternative to sending a worker in person.
If a property owner consents, pilotless aircraft also wouldn't be restricted.
If information is collected from a drone but doesn't meet one of the exceptions, it would be inadmissible in court or any criminal or civil proceeding.
Violators could be fined up to $500 for using the drones and possessing the surveillance material captured by them. Distributing the material would carry a penalty up to $2,000 and six months in jail. In addition, a property owner could file a lawsuit seeking civil penalties.
Gov. Bobby Jindal hasn't taken a position yet on the proposal.
"We do have concerns about the privacy issues surrounding the use of drones domestically. We have not reviewed the specifics of this piece of legislation yet, but we will, and we look forward to working with the Legislature on the issue," Jindal spokesman Mike Reed said in an email.
Claitor's bill also would require law enforcement agencies to submit written reports to the governor and lawmakers every two years outlining the number of times they've used drones, the reasons for their use, the type of information gathered and cost of operations.
The drone debate is new to Louisiana's Legislature, so Claitor said he's not sure whether he can gain enough support to see the measure passed in the upcoming three-month session.
"If at best I get people engaged in a conversation and thinking about whether they want that, that's not a bad result. If the legislation gets passed and it protects people's privacy and makes allowances for legitimate uses, that's good, too," he said.
Sen. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Baton Rouge, is offering a more limited proposal that would prohibit drones from flying over chemical plants, water plants and other systems deemed "critical infrastructure" unless operated by government officials or the owner of the property.

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