Privacy concerns drive new state legislation
In 2013, AMA tracked more than 40 separate pieces of state legislation directed at the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Most of this legislation either stalled in committee or was defeated; however, nine states did pass new legislation addressing the use of UAS. Most of the laws addressed the government use of UAS either by limiting the employment of this technology or restricting the government acquisition of unmanned aircraft.
Two states, Texas and Idaho, passed laws restricting the personal use of unmanned aircraft to gather images, to capture electronic data, and for conducting surveillance. In response to AMA’s input and concerns expressed by local modelers, language in the Texas bill was narrowed to specifically address UAS surveillance and a specific exclusion for model aircraft was added to Idaho legislation.
As the 2014 legislative season ramps up, ongoing concerns about potential invasion of privacy and government intrusion are driving many states to renew their efforts to pass legislation. Although some states are revamping bills from 2013, others are introducing new legislation aimed at restricting the use of unmanned aircraft.
As was seen last year, most of the bills focus on law enforcement and government use of this technology. However, several bills either include restrictions on the private use of aerial imaging and other sensor devices or have language that may have unintended consequences for the hobby community.
Many AMA members are proactively working with their local political leaders and state legislators in an effort to address these issues and dissuade legislation that may be detrimental to the aeromodeling community.
AMA encourages all of its members to remain vigilant and attentive to UAS legislation being considered in their respective states. The following are some suggested talking points when addressing these issues with state lawmakers:
• Privacy legislation should be technology neutral and should be geared toward deterring the errant behavior irrespective of the technology being used. Addressing the use of a specific device such as UAS could mean writing a new law each time new technology emerges.
• Existing state, civil, and criminal statutes and constitutional provisions have proven effective in the past and have adequately addressed other advancements in technology such as thermal imaging and electronic eavesdropping.
• Hobbyists have mounted cameras on their aircraft for years, going as far back as the small Brownie cameras of the 1940s and the Kodak Instamatic of the 1970s. Modelers use cameras on their aircraft primarily to take pictures of flying sites, the landscape, or friends and family. There’s never been a reported incident where a modeler used this technology to conduct surveillance or to spy on someone.
“The use of imaging technology for aerial surveillance with radio control model aircraft having the capability of obtaining high-resolution photographs and/or video, or using any types of sensors for the collection, retention, or dissemination of surveillance data information on individuals, homes, businesses, or property at locations where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy is strictly prohibited by the AMA unless written expressed permission is obtained from the individual property owners or managers.”
• AMA’s privacy guidelines are part of its comprehensive Safety Program, a program that has been recognized by the US Congress in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and most recently in the Drone Privacy Bill introduced by US Senator Ed Markey.
• Where legislators are intent on addressing the private use of UAS, ask them to protect the rights and privileges of the aeromodeling community by excluding model aircraft from legislation in a manner similar to that provided in the Markey Bill:
“Nothing in this Act (Law) may be construed to apply to model aircraft as defined in section 336(c) of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.”
On the regulatory front, reports from the UAS Integration Office indicate the FAA is making every effort to publish its proposed rule for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) by the year’s end. The sUAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and call for public comment could come as early as September 2014.
Although the Special Rule for Model Aircraft provided by Congress affords modelers protection from overreaching regulation, certain aspects of the sUAS rule could impact the aeromodeling community.
Please ensure that everyone you know is aware of the impending regulation. It’s important that those who share our love for this hobby are well informed and participate in the response to the proposed sUAS rule when the NPRM is published.
Timely updates regarding the sUAS rulemaking are available at www.modelaircraft.org and can be found on Facebook by Liking AMAGov, and on Twitter at, Twitter.com/AMAGov.