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Published: 6/18/2013

Bill seeks to restrict drones

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — If unmanned drones are going to hover over Ohioans’ heads, state law has to catch up with them, a lawmaker argues.

State Rep. Rex Damschroder, the Fremont Republican and pilot, has introduced a bill that would, except in certain emergencies, prohibit any law enforcement agency from using unmanned aircraft for surveillance without first obtaining a search warrant.

Absent that warrant, any evidence obtained from the use of a wide array of small, lightweight, camera-equipped drones could not be used in court.

“It’s a new industry, and we want to be on the leading edge of it, but I don’t want government infringing on our Fourth Amendment rights,“ Mr. Damschroder said. “Government can’t come into your house (without a warrant), but they can come into your backyard, even if you have a high privacy fence.

“I don’t want the camel to get its nose under the tent,” he said. “It’s easier to restrict its use before it starts. With texting and e-mailing, the government is on notice that a lot of Americans aren’t happy with the way government is snooping and digging into their privacy.”

Mention drones and most people think of the sleek, airplane-like craft that the military has used to bomb militant targets and gather intelligence in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the Federal Aviation Administration has been opening up more airspace to non-military use of the technology for craft resembling anything from a remote-controlled model helicopter used by the Medina County sheriff’s office to the small, Styrofoam bat-like craft that the Ohio Department of Transportation uses for aerial topography imaging.

Ohio has been eager to get in on the ground floor of what could be a burgeoning industry. Lawmakers recently proposed a sales tax exemption for parts and other purchases made by the aerospace industry, an incentive that would also apply to drone-related activities. The language was added to the next two-year budget now before a House-Senate conference.

A number of colleges are also among those that have either received or are seeking FAA air-space approval for the use of drones for research purposes.

While Mr. Damschroder said civilian use of unmanned aircraft so far is unlikely to share the same high airspace where he flies, he realizes it’s only a matter of time.

“It will take a long time and a lot of work to integrate them into the same airspace,” he said.

Under House Bill 207, law enforcement could skip the search warrant if swift action is considered necessary to protect lives, recapture an escaped suspect, or prevent destruction of evidence.

The bill is modeled after the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act enacted in Florida. A number of other states are going in the same direction.

Virginia, however, went a step further, recently imposing a two-year moratorium on the use of drones while it prepares the regulatory framework in which they’ll operate, including rules addressing privacy concerns.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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