A Utah legislator has recently introduced a proposed state law that would allow law enforcement to shoot down drones in certain situations and gives other suggested limits to drone activity.
If passed, Senate Bill 210 would firmly establish many limits on the behavior of drones that currently don’t exist at either the federal or state level. As currently written, Sen. Wayne Harper’s bill seems squarely aimed at many drone-related incidents that have occurred across the country.
Specifically, Harper’s bill would establish the concept of aerial trespass—which does not exist elsewhere in the United States. It’s likely an attempt to avoid future situations of landowners shooting drones down out of the sky. The bill also would ban the use of drones within 500 feet of correctional institutions, forbid flights within three miles of a “wildland fire,” and halt surveillance of gatherings of 500 people or more and aerial voyeurism.
But probably the most troubling of all of the provisions in the bill is the section that allows for the “neutralizing” of drones by first responders and law enforcement.
As the bill explains, that specifically means “to force the termination of the flight of an unmanned aircraft by (i) disabling or damaging the unmanned aircraft; (ii) interfering with any portion of the unmanned aircraft system associated with the unmanned aircraft; or (iii) otherwise taking control of the unmanned aircraft or the unmanned aircraft system associated with the unmanned aircraft.”
While Ars is unaware of notable drone incidents in the Beehive State, there have been many incidents in other states. Last year in California alone, there were some unmanned aerial vehicles that got in the way of firefighting efforts, while another crashed into power lines in Hollywood, and yet another hit a baby in Pasadena. Meanwhile, a homeowner in Kentucky famously shot down a drone hovering over his property, which spawned a federal civil lawsuit.
Two drone-related safety bills were introduced earlier this year in California. One proposed “tiny physical or electronic license plates” and inexpensive insurance, among other requirements. The second bill would compel drone pilots who are involved in incidents that damage property or injure people to leave their contact information—similar to what drivers must do following auto accidents.
“The basic premise on this is that we have three issues I want to address in this bill,” Harper said during a senate committee hearing on February 25. “One is privacy, the second is non-interference with airports and aircraft, and the third is non-interference with emergency situations.”
Harper did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.
Drone law experts, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration, are concerned that this bill could be dangerous if it’s passed.
“I am not sure why Utah believes it has the authority to allow local law enforcement to ‘neutralize’ a technology, which the FAA characterizes as an aircraft, out of the sky,” Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, told Ars. “Could they shoot down a remotely piloted Cessna?”
Les Dorr, an FAA spokesman, told Ars that shooting a drone would constitute a “significant safety hazard.”
“An unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air,” Dorr said in an e-mail. “Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in a civil penalty from the FAA and/or criminal charges filed by federal, state or local law enforcement. There also may be state or municipal ordinances that address property owners’ rights.”
Beyond the safety issue, Calo also pointed to a possible First Amendment concern.
“Moreover, I am worried that the ability to take down drones—for instance, operated by the press—constitutes a threat to free speech. In many jurisdictions, courts have interpreted the First Amendment to protect the right to record the police and other officials,” he added. “Could an officer ‘neutralize’ your camera? Why?”