Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Unfriendly Skies: Regulating Drones

From modern warfare to planned Amazon Prime delivery, drones (also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS) have become more commonplace in the last few years. As drone technology continues to grow more accessible to consumers (see Gizmodo's recent review of household drones, just in time for the holidays), lawmakers have scrambled to react to the potential implications for aerial surveillance and airspace crowding. The Federal Aviation Administration already maintains an information page on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, with frequently-asked questions, links to regulations, and news releases concerning the use of unmanned aircraft for recreational or other purposes. Most recently, the FAA prohibited the use of drones over sports stadiums which seat 30,000 or more people, through a special security notice posted to its website.

The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a 50-state survey, Current Unmanned Aircraft State Law Landscape. This page maps the 20 states which have also enacted some sort of drone-related legislation since 2013, along with a summary of each law. Even North Carolina, the birthplace of aviation, enacted drone legislation as part of the 2014 appropriations bill. The new provisions took effect on October 1.

A report released earlier this month by the Brookings Institution urges lawmakers to exercise caution when enacting legislation related to aerial drone surveillance. Author Gregory McNeal, a law professor at Pepperdine, notes that most legal focus has been on the technology itself rather than setting reasonable limits on the surveillance power of law enforcement. Other scholars have also explored various aspects of drone technology; check out the open-access articles available through the ABA's Legal Technology Resource Center custom search engine or use the subscription databases available under the "Finding Articles”" tab of Legal Databases & Links. For help finding additional resources on drones and the law, be sure to Ask a Librarian.