- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman, Jan. 14, 2014

Lawmakers should ground bill to limit drone activity

While most officials were disappointed Oklahoma wasn’t among six states selected by the Federal Aviation Administration for drone research and testing, state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, used the decision to make the case for his ACLU-endorsed legislation to restrict drone activity.

Yet James Grimsley, president of the Unmanned Systems Alliance of Oklahoma, convincingly argues that Wesselhoft’s bill is not only unnecessary, but could significantly impede much legitimate economic activity. Policymakers should heed Grimsley’s arguments.

Last year, Wesselhoft filed House Bill 1556, an ACLU-backed proposal to restrict Oklahoma use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as “drones.” Wesselhoft claimed Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable government search and seizure would be undermined without enhanced UAV regulation.

After the FAA’s announcement, Wesselhoft issued a news release suggesting the agency’s decision showed such regulation wouldn’t harm the industry, saying the six states selected for drone research - Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Virginia and Texas - had restrictive laws comparable to HB 1556.

In a blog post, Grimsley labeled that claim “absolutely false,” saying no legislation had passed in Nevada, New York or Alaska. He said North Dakota didn’t pass restrictive legislation and that the Texas law contained numerous exemptions. In comparison, Grimsley said Wesselhoft’s legislation is “among the most extreme, restrictive and damaging in the country.”

Among the problems Grimsley cites is an extremely broad definition of “surveillance” that could include “just about any type” of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) activity. More worrisome, another provision would allow anyone who feels “aggrieved” by drone activity to sue an operator and seek three times actual damages. Grimsley calls that provision an “absolute recipe for frivolous litigation” that will “wreak havoc in our state courts.” The lawsuit provision, he notes, applies to governmental and private-sector activity.

Grimsley points out that the courts have already addressed Fourth Amendment issues related to manned and unmanned aircraft operations by law enforcement, including in a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Existing state law already makes it illegal to spy on or observe the inhabitants of a dwelling or structure. In addition, when law enforcement officials want to use drones, they must first obtain permission from the FAA, a process that can take weeks when a standard search warrant can be obtained in hours.

Yet Wesselhoft’s bill could further hamstring law enforcement officials’ use of drones even for activity currently done with police helicopters. Under the bill, Grimsley argues, law enforcement using drones to find a missing person would be required to file sworn statements within 24 hours explaining why drone use was necessary.

In short, Wesselhoft’s legislation would provide little benefit for citizens concerned about an invasion of privacy, but could hamstring legitimate law enforcement use of drones and dramatically discourage investment in Oklahoma’s private-sector aerospace industry.

“This legislation could prevent the UAS industry in Oklahoma from developing and could even stop the industry completely,” Grimsley writes. “It could also create a serious change for the worse in our state’s aviation and aerospace industries.”

HB 1556 passed out of a House committee last year, but didn’t get a floor vote. The bill could still be brought up during the 2014 legislative session. Grimsley makes a convincing case that this legislation should remain permanently grounded.


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