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NH House passes bill outlining how drones can, and can't be used

Staff Report
March 12. 2014 4:35PM

CONCORD -- After two years of work by a key committee and the chief sponsor, legislation regulating the use of aerial drone photography and broadcasts by government agencies and private individuals easily passed the New Hampshire House Wednesday.

House Bill 1620 was passed to the state Senate on an overwhelming voice vote after sponsor Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said it balances the protection of privacy with the concerns of private drone manufacturers and "the many wonderful uses that drones can bring us."

"The bill protects us from some of the bad things that drones can do, but allows the industry to flourish," he said, noting that in "some countries," drones are used to deliver pizza.

Explaining the bill, Kurk said, "If the police and law enforcement are going to use a drone" to track a suspect or as part of an investigation, "they have to get a warrant." Kurk said. "But if the University of New Hampshire wants to fly a drone around to take pictures of moose, this bill has nothing to do with that.

"The private sector (individuals and businesses) can use drones any way we want," Kurk said, "but we can't follow and track people as long as there are recognizable faces, or stalking or harassing, or on the inside of buildings where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy."

Under the bill, after government agencies receive a search warrant to use a drone to gather evidence, any evidence gathered must be reported to the state Attorney General. The use of the drone in these cases would be limited to two days.

Any evidence obtained through the use of a drone that is not directly related to the warrant must be destroyed.

Federal agencies would be allowed to use drones without a warrant in order to counter a "high risk" of a terrorist attack; if the use is for a "legally-recognized exception" to the search warrant requirement; or if the government has a "reasonable suspicion" that quick action is needed to "prevent imminent harm to life or serious damage to property."

Anyone, including government employees or contractors, who violates the law would be guilty of a Class B felony. A government agency in violation would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

Kurk said during a hearing in January that the bill is not aimed at stopping private drone enthusiasts from using them in public places and unintentionally capturing the image of another person on the drone's camera.

He said his bill forbids "surveillance," which is defined in the bill as "intentionally" monitoring or observing an individual or group of people, or "the interior of a building or structure."

Kurk said the bill is not intended to stop drone photography of public events, such as rallies, or even riots, or events generally considered newsworthy by news organizations.

However, the bill does forbid intentional surveillance even in public places.

Kurk said at the hearing that he tried to balance privacy rights with the First Amendment right of someone to take photographs. He noted that nine states have laws regulating the use of drones.

He also said the bill contains a "preemption" provision that recognizes the authority of the federal government to supersede state law in certain areas.

The bill was recommended for passage on a 12-5 vote of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

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