Ohio draft laws seek to define private and police drone use

Police drone law

A pair of draft bills introduced to Ohio’s legislature outlines restrictions for drone flights by both private individuals and police forces in what, if passed, would be the state’s first laws regulating operation beyond Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines.

The initiative follows several attempts by Ohio lawmakers in recent years to set legal boundaries for private and police drone operation, all of which have foundered after failing to obtain bipartisan support. The new House Bills 485 and 486 were introduced by a Republican state senator backed by three party peers, and is considered to have a fair shot at passage. Through them, supporters hope to usher Ohio in to the group of nine states that have similar UAV laws on the books.

HB485 reportedly seeks to go beyond the basic FAA guidelines of drone flights by private pilots by placing what might be termed “don’t be a jerk” restrictions on operation. It would prohibit use of UAVs “in a careless or reckless manner that endangers any person or property, or with willful or wanton disregard for the rights or safety of others” – the penalty for doing so being a maximum six-month jail sentence and $500 fine. 

It reiterates FAA bans on acts like interfering with first responder interventions ­– up to 180 days in prison $1,000 fine for those who do. It also creates an add-on violation for using a drone to film, or even “loiter” around courthouses, prisons, military installations, hospital ambulance bays, or any other critical facility “in furtherance of any criminal offense.” 

The bill also allows for local governments to set their own rules on private drone flights above parks and other public properties. In general, then, the proposed restrictions largely represent an officialization of good sense UAV operation.

Draft law HS486, by contrast, is somewhat farther-reaching in setting what some opponents may consider excessive limits on drone flights by police in Ohio.

For starters, nothing recorded by law enforcement craft would be admissible in court unless it was obtained under a previously issued warrant. To obtain those, police would need to detail the evidence they expect the UAV to collect, how and when that data is to be recorded, and how long it will be stored.

As a legal reinforcement to that last detail, the bill prohibits police to keep drone-captured information for more than 90 days unless it is deemed relevant to a trial underway, or likely to be evidence a crime committed. 

Exceptions to warrant-required deployment include response to people in imminent danger of injury or death, or in surveying areas struck by weather-provoked disasters or other calamities. The draft law would also allow police to free to fly customs and immigration-control missions within 25 miles of the Canadian border.

All information detailing the use of police drones in surveillance must be kept on record for at least five years, under the bill, with any use to monitor demonstrations or people otherwise “lawfully exercising their constitutional rights” banned.

The Ohio innovation comes amid rising concerns among privacy activists about the proliferation of drone deployment by police forces across the US, and potential violations to individual rights routine aerial surveillance might pose.

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