February 6, 2016

Unauthorized drone surveillance would be illegal

Drone being used for recreational activity

Drone being used recreationally (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Photos, video and audio recordings captured without permission on private property with the use of a drone would be against the law under legislation being introduced at the state Capitol.

Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle in Wisconsin want to ensure remote-controlled flying devices do not threaten individual privacy rights. Representative Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) says the laws need to catch up to technology to prevent individuals from spying and eavesdropping on each other. “Because we do feel that the potential is now for invading airspace. We know how small some of these devices are. They are now bee-sized devices.”

Under the bill, law enforcement cannot use a drone to record video or audio for the purpose of a criminal investigation without first obtaining a search warrant. There are exceptions for emergencies, including to locate an escaped prisoner, to aid in a search and rescue mission, or to prevent imminent harm.

Mead Lake in Clark County

Mead Lake in Clark County taken with camera on a drone

Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) explains, it’s about having a legitimate expectation of privacy. “People can do what they do with, you know, flying model airplanes or drones in public spaces because you don’t have an expectation when you’re at the park or when you’re at the farmers market that you’re going to have a privacy interest there. It’s just in the spaces in our homes and other spaces where we expect we’re not going to have, you know, a two-foot drone outside our windows taping us while we’re in the bathroom. Nobody wants that.”

Violators of the privacy issue may be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to nine months, or both. The bill would also make it illegal for an individual to attach a weapon to a drone. Violators of that issue may be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to six years, or both.

Representative Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) says hobbyists needn’t worry. “We’ve been careful to draft the legislation so that we don’t affect the hobby aircraft. We want to make sure people can still fly their model planes that they spent so much time on.”

Representatives Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee), Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva), Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon), and Chris Taylor (D-Madison)

Representatives Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee), Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva), Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon), and Chris Taylor (D-Madison) (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

August says folks using the drones for legitimate purposes won’t be required to obtain any sort of license to operate the drone.

Rep. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon) says drones are no longer cost prohibitive, so more people will likely be using them.

Drone privacy laws are in place in Florida, Idaho and Virginia. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, drone privacy laws have been introduced in 39 states and are still active in 31 states.

The bill was introduced on Thursday by Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva), Rep. Frederick P. Kessler (D-Milwaukee), Rep. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison). It is being circulated for cosponsors.

The bill defines a drone as a powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic vehicle lift, and can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely. Status of domestic drone legislation in the states.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 2:43

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