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Drones and privacy remain debated issues in state, nation

New Hampshire Sunday News

August 02. 2014 7:00PM
Pictured is a drone with attached camera. (COURTESY)

A bill to regulate how the government, as well as private individuals, use drones passed the House last March on a voice vote, but later died in the Senate.

Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, a longtime privacy advocate, was its sponsor.

Kurk said the Federal Aviation Administration has been charged by Congress to come up with safety and privacy policies for drones. Until that happens, current FAA rules ban commercial drone use, he said.

Kurk said the amended measure that passed the House here would have allowed photographers to use drones to take pictures of people attending a public event.

But it would have barred anyone from using a drone to follow someone and record their activities.

"I'm trying to ensure that our traditional concepts of privacy are maintained as new technology makes it so inexpensive and so easy ... to undermine those traditional expectations of privacy," Kurk said.

Those expectations have changed in this era of ubiquitous cellphone cameras, he acknowledged. "We no longer have an expectation that if we go out in public, we won't be photographed. But I think we do all have the expectation today that we will not be followed photographically simply because the technology to do that is there."

Under his bill, government agencies could have used drones for law enforcement purposes only after first obtaining search warrants or prior consent.

No drones could have been equipped with weapons or used to "harass or stalk another person." And if a drone caused injury or property damage, the operator would be strictly liable.

Kurk said he plans to bring up the issue again in the next Legislature, "assuming I'm reelected."

There is so little regulation, and so much misinformation, surrounding drones that the FAA posted a section on its website called "Busting myths about the FAA and unmanned aircraft."

The first "myth" is that the FAA doesn't control airspace below 400 feet. "The FAA is responsible for the safety of U.S. airspace from the ground up," the agency said. "This misperception may originate with the idea that manned aircraft generally must stay at least 500 feet above the ground."

Another myth: Commercial unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flights are OK if they're over private property and below 400 feet.

"You may not fly a UAS for commercial purposes by claiming that you're operating according to the Model Aircraft guidelines (below 400 feet, 3 miles from an airport, away from populated areas)," the FAA stated.

"Commercial operations are only authorized on a case-by-case basis," it said, noting only one operation, in the Arctic, has met the agency's criteria to date.

"Flying model aircraft solely for hobby or recreational reasons does not require FAA approval," the agency said.

"However, hobbyists are advised to operate their aircraft in accordance with the agency's model aircraft guidelines."

The FAA expects to publish a proposed rule for small UAS - those under 55 pounds - this year, including provisions for commercial operations. The agency was directed by Congress to develop a plan for "safe integration" of UAS by Sept. 30, 2015, according to the website.

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