Proposed Law Would Let Cops Shoot Drones Out of the Sky

Flying drone with camera
Photogtaph by Buena Vista Images — Getty Images

A bill being discussed in the Utah legislature could give law enforcement officials the authority to “neutralize” unmanned aircraft in certain situations.

Senate Bill 210, introduced by Sen. Wayne Harper, would set new limits for what drone owners can do with the devices, which has been a growing safety concern in many areas. Utah’s Senate Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Standing Committee is scheduled to consider the legislation this afternoon.

The proposed law would prohibit drones from trespassing aerially over another person’s property and ban the use of the aircraft to violate the privacy of others. Drone owners would not be allowed to fly the devices within 500 feet of correctional institutions,within three miles of a “wild land fire,” or over crowds of 500 people or more. The bill would also prohibit using drones in a wreckless manner that “causes fear for the safety of another person” or “intends to cause annoyance or injury to a person or damage to property.”

The idea of aerial trespassing is a fairly new one. Harper’s bill defines it as flying a drone less than 400 feet above private property. (Late last year, California governor Jerry Brown vetoed similar proposed legislation.) But it’s the broad authority given to Utah law enforcement officials that worries some authorities.

The bill does clearly state forced termination of flights can only occur under certain conditions, including a threat to individuals or property, the need to create a safe environment for emergency response vehicles and personnel to operate, and protecting flight paths of airlines. (Civilians would not allowed to shoot down drones, as a Kentucky man did last July, under the proposed bill.)

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Officials would be forbidden from neutralizing drones if it would cause injury to people or animals or result in property damage of over $5,000. (The value of the drone is not factored into the property damage figure.) And while law officials are certainly authorized to shoot them down, the bill discourages destroying the drone.

“A law enforcement officer who neutralizes an unmanned aircraft in accordance with this section shall neutralize the unmanned aircraft: (a) in the most safe and practicable manner available; and (b) in a manner that causes as little damage or destruction as possible to the unmanned aircraft system and other property,” the bill reads.

That’s not enough for some experts, though.

“An unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air,” Les Dorr, an FAA spokesman, told Ars Technica. “Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in a civil penalty from the FAA and/or criminal charges filed by federal, state or local law enforcement. There also may be state or municipal ordinances that address property owners’ rights.”

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