“…Now we have to think in new terms; aerial trespassing is a phrase we heard used today.”
Testimony presented yesterday on an interim study on drones gave members of Oklahoma’s Senate Public Safety Committee an opportunity to better understand unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) when they consider possible state policy on the use of the technology.
The study was requested by State Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, who said it was important to take into account privacy concerns, constitutional questions and the need to balance those with public safety issues and the potential for economic development in the state.
“I’ve been studying this issue for months, and I am increasingly aware of the complexities involved,” he said. “We have laws on the books meant to address privacy concerns, including laws against trespassing, but now we have to think in new terms; aerial trespassing is a phrase we heard used today. I think this is a first step toward ensuring we take a comprehensive look at the issues and the dynamics involved.”
Stephen Henderson, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, acknowledged the complexities faced by policymakers. He said though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets the policy on airspace, privacy concerns were not something that they’ve addressed.
“Do we need privacy laws? Like never before,” Henderson said, while acknowledging that privacy rights sometimes conflict with other constitutional rights, such as free speech and press. “This is not easy, and for the most part, the law is simply not yet declared. Over the last decade … courts have begun to articulate a constitutional right to record, but so far, it’s been limited to the recording of police in the public performance of their duties, which is the easiest case. And it’s not even yet considered that as to recording from the air.”
“It is important to address issues that are very real concerns here in Oklahoma, such as public safety and privacy, but also taking into account the potential benefits for our state,” Sen. Simpson added. “As we look at potential legislation, we need to proceed thoughtfully and carefully.”
This is a scene that is repeating itself in state houses around the country. As one may conclude from this example, it is clear that many legislators do not believe that their current laws address all of the issues raised by drones.
It also may be that more and more legislators are beginning to understand that this is not something that will, or can be, addressed by the FAA.
The comment about trying to balance the public good with economic opportunity reflects the argument recently put forward by Fox Rothschild LLP on balancing state and federal powers.