In Phoenix, state legislators are advancing a bill that aims to protect privacy against intrusive drone use. The House Commerce Committee passed the legislation on Wednesday, which proposes making it a felony to intentionally capture photos, record, or otherwise observe someone in a private location with a drone where they have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Disagreements arose over the exact point at which someone's privacy is considered violated, causing concerns that the bill's wording is vague, with the potential to lead to unintentional violations.
Lobbyists concerned about unintentional drone photos and video
The legislation is not limited to amateur drone users; major companies are also concerned about the possible ramifications. A lobbyist for NBC Universal voiced concerns that their client could breach the law if homes were inadvertently filmed during regular News and sports coverage.
An insurance industry lobbyist also expressed worries about potential criminal charges resulting from using drones to assess property damage after a disaster.
The crux of the debate revolves around the notion of “expectation of privacy.” Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, argued that much of it depends on the perception of the individual being observed or recorded. He provided the example of a drone operator invading a person's yard and peering through their bedroom window – a clear violation of privacy.
However, Kern believes there is less of an expectation of privacy if a drone captures images of someone in their backyard.
He explained, “If a drone flies over my property and I'm sitting out there maybe in my boxers or otherwise and they take a picture, that's my bad. That's not to me a reasonable expectation.”
The height at which a drone operates is another factor to consider in determining whether the law is triggered.
Kern explained to the committee that a drone flying outside the property line and just above the top of a fence would not be breaking the law. However, a drone entering the property and capturing images of private areas within the home would violate the reasonable expectation of privacy.
In a later interview with Capitol Media Services, Kern acknowledged that the required height for a drone to avoid violating privacy may vary depending on circumstances. He offered the example of a multi-story building resident who might consider a drone flying 30 feet off the ground as intrusive.
Kern also discussed the issue of loitering, stating that a drone hovering above a house and yard, taking photos, is different from one merely flying over the property. He remained unsure whether even the latter scenario would constitute a violation.
Another factor to consider is the drone's camera capabilities. With Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules permitting drones to fly up to 400 feet, Kern pointed out that the optics and resolution of the camera determine whether someone's privacy is breached without the drone having to be in close proximity to a property or window.
Kern is certain about one aspect of the legislation: the identity of the drone operator is irrelevant.
“Whether it be government or Realtors or an insurance company, if there's intent there of photographing your property without your permission, I think that they need to get that permission,” he reportedly asserted.
Having already gained approval from the Senate in Arizona, the bill will now proceed to the full House for consideration.
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