Oregon Bill to Control Drones

One of the many great things about the United States, from a lawmaker’s point of view at least, is that they comprise fifty-one legislatures attempting to tackle the problems that face us (in the West, at least) with a net of words. It’s like a greenhouse or nursery for the legal species. And we up here in slower Canada get to watch to see which cultivars survive politics, real life — and occasionally ridicule.

For example, a bill currently in the hothouses of the Oregon legislature — Oregon Senate Bill 71, A Bill for an Act Relating to Drones; and Declaring an Emergency — attempts to deal with one aspect of the plague of drone aircraft that has already begun to spread across the US. The bill is aimed at a “flying machine that is capable of”:

(a) Capturing images of objects or people on the ground or in
the air;
(b) Intercepting communications on the ground or in the air; or
(c) Firing a bullet or other projectile.

The bill provides, among other things:

3) (1) . . . A person may not possess or control a drone unless permitted to do so by the federal government or by the Oregon Department of Aviation . . .
(2) A person who possesses or controls a drone in violation of subsection (1) of this section commits a Class B misdemeanor.
(3) A person who possesses or controls a drone in violation of subsection (1) of this section and uses the drone to capture an image of a person or object on the ground or in the air commits a Class A misdemeanor.
(4) A person who possesses or controls a drone in violation of subsection (1) of this section and uses the drone to fire a bullet or other projectile commits a Class C felony.
(5) A person who possesses or controls a drone for the purpose of hunting or stalking game commits a Class C felony.
(6) A person who possesses or controls a drone and causes the drone to fire a bullet or other projectile at an aircraft while the aircraft is in the air, or intentionally causes or attempts to cause the drone to crash into an aircraft while the aircraft is in the air, commits a Class A felony.

This has the hobbyists up in arms, as you might imagine. See the story on The Register and on USNews. (I’ve no idea whether hunters — of game or aircraft — are as upset.)

Lawyers are worried as well, because the control of airspace is considered a federal matter, and the bill is arguably ultra vires Oregon. The bill tries to evade this difficulty in two ways. First, it applies only to the “airspace of Oregon” and declares:

(1) ‘Airspace of Oregon’ means the space above the ground that is not part of airspace governed by federal law.

And then it would declare a state of emergency and claim that the bill is “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”

The drones are coming in increasing numbers, whether deployed by “the authorities” or by private citizens. Canada will have to consider some legislative measures to counter potential invasions of privacy and unwarranted searches, let alone dangers from drones armed with weapons. Given the widespread availability of the technology and its relatively low cost, the chances of success of these efforts is not good, it seems to me. What do you think?

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