Drone Pilots Face New Restrictions: Vermont Bill Aims to Protect Privacy

Legislation Targets Drone Surveillance Over Private Property

In Vermont, lawmakers are discussing a new bill that would restrict drone usage over private property in an effort to protect homeowner privacy. The proposed legislation, known as H.284, would prohibit flying drones less than 100 feet above private property without the consent of the property owner, reports Vermont Biz.

The bill's sponsors, Rep. Josie Leavitt (D-Grand Isle) and Rep. Michael Morgan (R-West Milton), say the measure was prompted by concerns from a constituent who reported a drone frequently hovering over their home while their daughter was sunbathing.

“Hovering over someone's house technically qualifies as stalking,” Leavitt said. “The goal of the bill is to protect the privacy of homeowners, a concern that came up recently in talks with constituents.”

Under the proposed law, drone operators would also be prohibited from using their devices to record privately owned property with the intent of conducting surveillance – defined as observing someone or something with enough clarity to identify their identity, habits, movements, or unique features.

Violators would face fines of $50 for a first offense and $250 for any subsequent offenses. Drone sellers would also be required to notify buyers about the new restrictions.

While most drone owners in are “respectful and courteous” with their hobby, according to Leavitt, some are concerned that the bill's specifics are too arbitrary. Steve Mermelstein, a photographer and founder of the Vermont Drone services group, believes the 100-foot altitude limit is unrealistic.

“They have to be within 20 to 30 feet to really make that person stop looking like an ant and be able to identify them, let alone really have a clear image of them,” Mermelstein said. “The drones that are available to consumers… just don't have that zoom capability that you see on TV or you see in fiction.”

Despite these concerns, legislators supporting the bill believe regulation is necessary to help homeowners feel safe. While have said it would be hard to regulate airspace, they would “have no problem regulating creepy behavior,” Leavitt noted.

“The thing that's most important about this bill is to just gently remind drone operators that they need to respect private property,” she said.

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