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    Drones – coming to a neighborhood near you

    Worried about the security of your home or business? Wondering how safe your neighborhood is? Curious about how well your crops or livestock are doing?

    The answer may be drone technology – the same technology that has been used in the fight against terrorism and to patrol our nation’s borders.

    As knowledge about drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, becomes more mainstream, public safety officials, companies and individuals are exploring how drones could perform a variety of jobs.

    Because of the potential and controversial uses of drone technology, which range from military-style Predator drones to camera-equipped flying devices the size of birds, 43 states have proposed or recently enacted laws to define what a drone is, who is authorized to use them, and how they can be used, according to WestlawNext, the nation’s leading online legal research service.

    Compiled through research on WestlawNext, here is a breakdown of what states have enacted or are currently proposing:

    * 39 states have laws or bills addressing search warrants for law enforcement’s use of drones.

    * 18 states have laws or bills that limit the use of drones for surveillance by non-law enforcement personnel, such as corporate security personnel or private investigators.

    * 17 states have laws or bills that prohibit drones armed with weapons, such as guns or tasers.

    * 20 states have laws or bills for a private right of action by individuals aggrieved by violations of drone rules.

    * 16 states have laws or bills defining criminal penalties for violation of drone regulations.

    * 17 states have laws or bills providing exceptions for the use of drones in cases of emergency.

    The legislation, both enacted and proposed, address real-life questions such as whether a local police department can issue speeding tickets based on a digital recording of the car’s speed from a drone flying overhead, the use of drones by the news media to record footage for a story, or if you need a license to shoot video with a remote-controlled aircraft for commercial purposes, such as real estate or to record large public events for advertisers.

    On the other side of the issue, a debate is emerging about the legality of an American citizen destroying a low-flying drone that crosses a property owner’s private property.  According to a February 2013 Reason-Rupe poll, 47 percent of Americans think they should have the right to shoot down a drone that’s taking video of their home.

    “There are a number of issues surfaced by the various legislation, but clearly privacy and public safety top the list,” says Michael Carlson, reference attorney at Thomson Reuters. “The wide-ranging points of legislation demonstrate multiple views, perceived opportunities and a variety of concerns surrounding the use and development of drones.”

    Through research on WestlawNext, some of the unique legislation being discussed and debated in statehouses across the United States regarding drones includes:

    * Proposed legislation in Virginia would make it unlawful to use drones to “impede the lawful hunting of wild birds or wild animals.”

    * In Massachusetts, a bill would prohibit the use of drones to “collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of an individual.”

    * At least three states, North Carolina, Utah and Virginia, have called for the investigation of, or express concern for, the authorized use of drones against U.S. citizens by the U.S. government.

    * Some states, such as Nevada, Ohio, Texas and Washington, are encouraging the development of drone technology within their state.

    * At least two states, Nevada and Washington, noted tax incentives or abatements in their legislation for aircraft businesses or the aerospace industry. The legislature in Nevada also endorsed “the promotion of efforts to support the establishment of Nevada as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of unmanned aircraft systems education, testing, research and manufacture.”

    These various pieces of legislation seek to address an ever-changing landscape as the application for drone use, and their technological capabilities, ever-widens. In 2015, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration and aviation industry representatives, is expected to announce rules and regulations regarding the use of drones. In the end, drones, and legislation tied to them, have become part of our everyday lives.

    Photo Credit: Reuters/Srdjan Zivulovic

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