Monday, March 4, 2013

A map of all the drone laws in the United States.

The ACLU recently published on its technology blog a list of 28 states that are pursuing regulations for unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS. They're more commonly referred to as "drones," and in fact many of the proposed laws use that exact word.

I dug further to find out what lawmakers are actually proposing. You may click on individual states in the above map to learn more about specific legislation.

Out of the 28 states, 14 are proposing limitations only to law enforcement. In most cases, proposed legislation would make it illegal for law enforcement to use an unmanned aircraft without a warrant.

Some also call for evidence obtained from a "drone" to be destroyed after a specified period. A few ban any government entities from using the technology altogether.

The 14 remaining states are filled in with darker colors on the map, indicating stronger regulations. These are states where it may soon be illegal to take photographs of people or property without permission.

The states with the darkest colors, Hawaii, Oregon, Texas, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, are looking at some of the most severe regulations in the United States. These states are seeking to require everyone to seek permission from the state to own or operate an unmanned system, or they are banning aerial photography outright.

New Jersey, for example, has introduced legislation that would make it illegal to even posses a "drone."

No state in the union has passed an anti-drone law yet. But what could these bills mean to civilian UAS use and drone journalism? Right now, it's uncertain.

As I said, many states are only looking to strictly limit police use of UAS. But some states are looking to outlaw unmanned systems even when there is no expectation of privacy.

Could a network station air a traffic report by "drone," if it needs signatures from all the drivers it records? Why impose that limitation on an unmanned system, when it is not required of a news "chopper"?

The bigger question remains whether such laws would be enforceable. The Supreme Court has long since recognized the Federal Aviation Administration's authority to regulate the national airspace system (NAS). Representatives at transportation departments in some of these states have tried to point out the limits of their regulatory authority.

Lawmakers may find it politically viable to regulate journalism, but how much of the $90 billion UAS pie will they be willing to give up in such turbulent economic times?

For now, I've posted this in a more permanent location on, so that anyone pursuing Aerial Robotic Assisted Reporting (ARAR) can have a quick look and see what the status is in their state.