The Alabama legislature is today trying to pass a bill (HB36 & SB45) that would “provide for the crime of unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure by prohibiting the operation of an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, to conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record a critical infrastructure.” The bill specifically adds the term pipeline to the term critical infrastructure. This would, for instance, make it illegal for environmentalists to use drones to monitor pollution.

Kyle Whitmire, state political columnist for the Alabama Media Group, first shared his concerns that these new bills would effectively block environmentalists from using drones to monitor pollution. In a series of tweets he pointed out the following:

Please share far and wide and fast. The Alabama legislature is considering a bill that would effectively block environmentalists from using drones to monitor pollution.

This is all the worse because ADEM has pretty much abdicated policing pollution and enforcing environmental protection in Alabama. Environmental groups have picked up some of the slack and drones have been a crucial tool.

This bill pretends to be a security measure to protect essential infrastructure, but in reality it is nothing but a sneaky attempt to criminalize protecting air quality and waterways in Alabama.

I’ll have a lot more to say on this in a column, but this bill could get rammed through today and I thought you should know how bad it is before that happens. If you like coal ash in your drinking water, this is the bill for you.

The bill numbers are HB36 and SB45. Bill sponsors are Rep. Chip Brown and @SenCamWard.

From Bill HB36 by Representative Brown (C) and Bill SB45 by Senator Ward reads as follows:

Existing law provides for the commission of the crime of unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure.

This bill would further provide for the crime of unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure by prohibiting the operation of an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, to conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record a critical infrastructure except under certain conditions. This bill would further define the term critical infrastructure to include the term pipeline.

In the bill, a drone is defined as:

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEM. A powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, may fly autonomously through an onboard computer or be piloted remotely, and may be expendable or recoverable. The term does not include a satellite orbiting the Earth or a spacecraft beyond Earth’s atmosphere, and may not be construed to implicate the provider of a telecommunications link between an owner or operator of an unmanned aircraft system and the unmanned aircraft system.

A person flying a drone would commit a crime if he or she.

A person commits the crime of unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure if the person does any of the following:

Knowingly operates, or permits, authorizes, or directs another person to operate, an unmanned aircraft system over a critical infrastructure less than 400 feet above ground level to conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record the critical infrastructure without the permission of the owner or operator of the critical infrastructure.

Exceptions are made for:

This subdivision does not apply to an unmanned aircraft system operated by any of the following:

  1. The federal government.
  2. The state or a political subdivision of the state.
  3. The owner or operator of the critical infrastructure.
  4. Any person who has a valid lease, servitude, right-of-way, right of use, license, or other right granted by the owner or operator of the critical infrastructure.
  5. A law enforcement agency, emergency medical service agency, hazardous material response team, disaster management agency, or other emergency management agency for the purpose of incident command, area reconnaissance, personnel and equipment deployment monitoring, training, or a related purpose.
  6. An insurance company that is authorized to operate by the owner or operator of the critical infrastructure and is operating for the purpose of underwriting an insurance risk or investigating damage to insured property.
  7. Any person when in strict compliance with a court order.

Class A misdemeanor or Class C felony

A person who commits the crime of unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

If, during the commission of the crime of unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure, the person injures, removes, destroys, breaks, or otherwise interrupts or interferes with the operations of a critical infrastructure asset, the person is guilty of a Class C felony.

If these bills pass today, the new laws will become in effect as of March.

You can read the entire bill here and here.

What do you think about the Alabama Legislature trying to pass a bill that will make it illegal for environmentalists to monitor pollution with drones? Let us know in the comments below.

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