- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers say they are weighing public safety benefits against privacy rights as they take another stab at drafting regulations for drones.

The Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee on Wednesday heard a staff report on how other states and the federal government are dealing with unmanned aircraft. There is a public hearing on potential drone regulations on Oct. 8, and the panel expects to present recommendations to the legislature in December.

Drones equipped with cameras and other equipment can be used for the public good in helping emergency responders find fleeing criminals and injured victims, but they also can be used for nefarious purposes such as recording people without their knowledge, lawmakers said.

“I think that our citizens want to maximize the utility for law enforcement but at the same time maintain their privacy,” said state Sen. John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield and co-chairman of the program review committee. “We have to figure out that balance.”

States are limited in how they can regulate unmanned aircraft because the Federal Aviation Administration has jurisdiction over the national airspace. But the states can restrict how police and other government employees use drones.

States also may be able to prohibit flying drones over state parks and other public lands and add new criminal laws against secretly recording people and using drones to carry bombs or other weapons. Connecticut officials say it’s unclear what states can do because the FAA is developing federal regulations. The FAA has banned commercial use of drones, with some exceptions, while it draws up new rules.

Connecticut is one of 30 states that haven’t passed some kind of drone law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twelve states have limited how law enforcement can used drones, and seven states have criminalized the use of drones for non-government surveillance, according to the conference.

Connecticut lawmakers last year considered a bill that would have allowed police to operate drones for law enforcement purposes. The bill also would have required officers to get warrants to use drones, unless there was an emergency. The proposal died in committee amid a number of concerns and calls for a study.

The debate over drones in the state was stoked earlier this year, when a woman was charged with assault after confronting a teenager who was using a drone to film over Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison in May. An online video shows the woman calling the 17-year-old boy a pervert, striking him and ripping his shirt. The boy said he’d been using the remote-controlled drone to get footage of the landscape from about 50 feet above the beach.

And in February, a journalist filed a lawsuit alleging that Hartford police officers violated his free-speech rights by questioning his use of a remote-controlled aircraft to record images of a car wreck.

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, a Democrat from Wallingford, said whenever there’s new technology there’s a potential for problems.

“We’re going to try to balance the potential uses with the need to secure people’s privacy and protect their safety,” she said.

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