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Another hidden gem: Troubling new law on drones slipped into the state budget bill

Drone 2As Sarah Ovaska reported this morning in her story on some of the hidden gems in this year’s state budget bill, North Carolina now has – with virtually no meaningful public discussion — a new and flawed law on the use of those cute little aerial spying machines known as “drones.”

Unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, can no longer be used by people or state agencies to conduct surveillance without landowners’ consent. The law carves out some exceptions for law enforcement and media covering news event, and makes adding a weapon to a drone a felony. Outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen need to pay attention: using a drone to hunt or fish is now a misdemeanor. Some of the wording in the budget still leaves questions about how to legally use drones, and the new rules may make it difficult to use drones to take photographs or video for artistic purposes, said Sarah Preston, of the ACLU of North Carolina. “There’s still a lot of stuff that’s left up in the air,” she said.

One of the state’s most active and engaged critics of drone use and the backroom efforts of politicians with connections to the drone industry is Asheville activist/advocate Barry Summers. Yesterday, Summers authored a forceful critique of the new law in the Asheville Citizen-Times. As Summers notes:

During the final days of the budget train wreck in Raleigh, H1099 (Unmanned Aircraft Regulation) was slipped anonymously into the 2014 budget. This is the perfect, shameful and shabby end to a process where the GOP-led NCGA has failed to protect our civil liberties.

H1099 was never heard by any Senate committee, but it has become State law nonetheless. It allows warrantless drone surveillance at all public events (including those on private property) or any place which is in “plain view” of a law enforcement officer. It has other loopholes and deficiencies which taken altogether, make a mockery of the “right-to-privacy” anywhere but inside your home with the shades drawn tight.

Not surprisingly, the ACLU-NC, which had partnered with conservatives to draft the earlier, tougher H312 (Protecting Privacy Act), has come out solidly against H1099.

It was conceived in the NC House Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, chaired by an executive of a company that develops drone technology for the military (no conflict of interest there, right?). They solicited no testimony from anyone whose focus is the preservation of civil liberties. Instead, they invited drone manufacturers, law enforcement and others who clearly wanted the NCGA to open up the skies to drones with the fewest possible restrictions. Concerns about privacy were given little consideration.

Read the rest of Summers’ damning essay by clicking here.

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