Bill targets airborne ‘drones’ that spy on hunters

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RICHMOND — A Virginia state senator is pushing legislation that would take aim at unmanned “drone” aircraft that might prowl the skies over private lands snooping on hunters below.

Sen. Frank Ruff, Mecklenberg Republican, says his bill was inspired by a news story of an animal-rights group flying a small, camera-equipped, remote-controlled plane over a hunt club in Pennsylvania where captive pigeons were released and shot down.

In that case, the drone suffered the same fate as the pigeons.

There are no known tales of an airborne eye in the sky buzzing hunters in the fields and forests of Virginia. Mr. Ruff says his bill would keep it from happening.

The measure, SB954, would outlaw “the use of a drone by a private person to monitor and photograph persons lawfully hunting on private property, when the drone is used by a private person without the permission of the landowner.” Violaters would be charged with the misdemeanor offense of impeding hunting, punishable by a fine of as much as $500.

The measure won unanimous approval in the House Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources committee Thursday, but was referred to the Courts of Justice Committee where the broader issue of prohibiting aerial photography and observation will undergo closer constitutional vetting.

While the bill was focused initially on protecting hunter privacy, it might be expanded by the courts committee to prohibit aerial snooping over fenced backyards, swimming pools and other private venues, Mr. Ruff said.

“It raises the question of where does spying by individuals and by groups on people in private property start and stop?” Mr. Ruff said. “Whether we do anything about it this year or not, it’s an issue that needs to be raised.”

Drawn too broadly, the measure could affect an array of commercial aerial photography and data gathering, including popular and commonly used satellite mapping.

What Mr. Ruff’s bill identifies as drones aren’t the sophisticated and deadly aircraft the military deploys over war zones. They’re small radio-controlled hobbyist planes with hand-held servos with pouches for small cameras or smart phones.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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