Drone Regulation Bills Introduced in Georgia House
(APN) ATLANTA — Two Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to regulate the use of domestic drones, or unmanned aircraft, in Georgia; however, both bills appear to be stalling in the Legislature this Session.
HB 846, introduced by State Rep. Harry Geisinger (R-Roswell), would prohibit the capturing of certain images by drones.
According to its caption, the bill would “amend Article 3 of Chapter 11 of Title 16 of the O.C.G.A., relating to invasions of privacy, so as to provide for a definition; to provide for the lawful use of unmanned aircraft; to prohibit the capturing of certain images by unmanned aircraft; to prohibit the possession, disclosure, display, distribution, or other use of such improperly captured images; to provide for penalties; to provide for defenses to prosecution; to restrict the use of such images; to provide for civil actions for violations; to provide for rulemaking authority for the Department of Public Safety for law enforcement use of such unmanned aircraft; to provide for certain reports; to provide for related matters; to provide for an effective date and applicability; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.”
The bill is “not very restrictive,” Rep. Geisinger told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview. House Bill 846 is intended “just for those who would abuse it,” he said.
Rep. Geisinger explained that this bill came out of a breakout session at last year’s National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), which he attended, along with 6,000 other legislators from across the country.
Two Texas legislators led the workshop, he said. They presented the bill that had been passed in Texas. Rep. Geisinger used the Texas bill as his template for HB 846.
“We haven’t kept pace with technology in Georgia. If we don’t think to the future, we will be doomed to repeat the past,” Geisinger said.
HB 846 “probably will go to a Study Committee over the summer,” Geisinger said. Further study will provide an opportunity to clarify the vague language and to refocus the legislation on the use of unmanned aircraft by law enforcement.
The regulation of these new technologies will have far-reaching consequences. “This is just the beginning,” Geisinger said.
The second bill is HB 848 by State Rep. Stephen Allison (R-Blairsville).
Rep. Allison failed to respond to APN’s request for an interview.
However, Rep. Geisinger did characterize HB 848: “It makes no sense,” he opined.
The caption of HB 848 reads, to amend the code “relating to lawful flight over lands and waters of this state, so as to provide that no aircraft shall be operated in the airspace above private property, extending from the surface up to a distance of 100 feet above the surface, for the purpose of searching or engaging in surveillance without a search warrant or permission of the property owner, and any evidence obtained by an aircraft within such protected zone shall be inadmissible in the courts of this state; to provide for related matters; to provide an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.”
If unmanned drones are prevented from flying below an altitude of one hundred feet, there could be unforeseen consequences for Georgia’s agricultural interests.
The ability to fly low over a field reduces the drift of toxicants over populated areas, and more controls insect pests in crops in a more cost-effective manner.
Geisinger mentioned that Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton), Chairman of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, is a proponent of the unrestricted use of unmanned aircraft in agriculture. He believes It is important to maintain Georgia’s competitive position.
“U.S. law enforcement is greatly expanding its use of domestic drones for surveillance. Rules must be put in place to ensure that we are not brought closer to a ‘surveillance society’ in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government,” Azadeh N. Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Georgia, told APN.
“The two pieces of legislation introduced in the Georgia Assembly are well-intentioned, but the language is vague in parts. The legislation would best be focused on law enforcement use of drones rather than general and undefined use of drones, which could affect the First Amendment rights of individuals who would have an interest in using the technology for cultural or academic purposes,” she said.
“For example, under HB 846, an individual or a travel guidebook could not use a drone to take an aerial photograph of the Atlanta skyline without getting the permission of every building owner whose building appears in the image,” she said.
According to the NCSL website, last year, in 2013, thirteen U.S. states enacted laws concerning the use of drones.
HB 846 and 848 have both been referred to the House Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee.