Drones For Firefighting

As drone technology is advancing, new uses of drones are similarly arising almost every day. Here are a number of articles about the use of drones to assist in fighting fires.

Putting aside the obvious benefits of using drone-mounted devices to assist in emergency response, such use presents some interesting legal questions that are as yet unresolved in California:

  • Is the video a public record under the California Public Records Act?
  • What if the video captures pictures or sound recordings of information that arguably is private, or contains Personal Identifiable Information?
  • Is a fire district, or other fire fighting agency, liable for damages or injury caused by the drone use?
  • Could private drone use, for instance by the media, interfere with a public emergency responder’s use, and what are the First Amendment rights to use a drone in a situation where a public drone is already being used?

Stay tuned…

Share This

Drones Over Sports Arenas

On October 27, 2014, the FAA updated its ban on airplane flights over open-air stadiums with 30,000 or more spectators to include drones.  For the first time, the FAA Notice also explicitly states that violators could be imprisoned for up to a year.

The ban doesn’t apply to indoor arenas.  Drones are now so small and so easily secreted in a backpack, that operators of indoor arenas also have cause for concern.

Share This

Berkeley on Drones

The City of Berkeley is likely to be a hotspot for legal issues concerning commercial drone use in California.

On the one hand, the University of California, Berkeley is home to the Center for Collaborative Control of Unmanned Vehicles, which is poised to become a cutting edge center on both policy and technology related to commercial drone use.

On the other hand, the City of Berkeley has been discussing for over two years enacting severe restrictions on drone use within the City.  The city has so far held workshops and considered draft ordinances on the topic, but has not taken any action. Here’s a copy of an April 2014 policy that the City Council considered, and heard impassioned arguments for and against, but decided not to act on.

Share This

Drone Regulation in Canada

While many complain that the absence of regulation in the United States is stifling competition (see recent Wall Street Journal article: “Regulation Clips Wings of US Drone Makers“), Canada does not suffer from such inaction.

Here is a link to the drone website maintained by Canada’s Privacy Commissioner: Drones in Canada.

The material on the website reveals a lot of interesting policy choices—all of which are presently facing regulators in the United States.

Share This

Drone First Amendment

Here’s an interesting article on First Amendment implications of growing use of drones by the media.

In California, many cities are starting to consider regulating drone use within their jurisdictions.  Any such regulations will have to survive First Amendment scrutiny and will have to be reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.  How courts will apply traditional public forum analysis to airspace is one of the many interesting and unknown legal questions presented by advances in drone technology.

Share This

Electronic Frontier Foundation on Drones

The EFF has done interesting work on drones but may have let the topic slide for some time—its drone website seems to be out of date.

The site does include a Google-based map of drone flight authorizations (and the authorizing entities) across the US.

Share This

Welcome to Hanson Bridgett’s Drone Law Blog

As recently as two years ago, mention the word “drone” and people would think you were talking about a recent military drone strike in a far off corner of the world.  But Google “drone” today, and the top hits are all for websites dedicated to the commercial sale or use of drones.  From real estate brokers to agribusiness, from journalists to wedding photographers, commercial drone use has exploded in the last few years.

For the moment, commercial use of drones is essentially unregulated in California. But the landscape may be changing quickly. The new frontier of regulation of commercial use of drones is most likely to take place at the local level.

The Federal Aviation Administration is charged under federal law with issuing regulations in 2015 concerning commercial drone use.  These regulations will largely focus on safety issues and will be of critical importance to anyone seeking to make commercial use of drone technology.  But even with federal action (and any FAA action is not going to be finalized until 2016 at the earliest—my prediction is it will not be until 2017), California–and especially local agencies–are taking notice and  are beginning to regulate commercial drone use.

At the State level, the legislature passed AB 2306 which took effect on January 1, 2015.  This is a relatively modest law that clarifies existing invasion-of-privacy laws already on the books and applies them to video or audio captured by a camera attached to a drone. A video or audio recording taken of someone in situation in which the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy can now be actionable even if the audio or video recording is taken with a camera- mounted drone.

The other area in which the California legislature is active concerns use of drones by municipalities and other local agencies.  Late in the last legislative session, the Governor vetoed AB 1327, which would have required a warrant for use of drones by law enforcement.   Law enforcement agencies are generally opposed to a statutory warrant requirement, preferring to rely on courts to establish how the Fourth Amendment will apply to new technologies like drones. Efforts are already underway to pass similar legislation, with the hope that the Governor will sign the bill if presented it outside the context of an election campaign.

Separate from both the federal safety regulations, and any State efforts to regulate law enforcement use, Local agencies are beginning to step up to fill a vacuum created by the absence of regulation. These local efforts are likely to have more immediate and significant impacts on the drone industry—equal to, or possibly greater than the impact of any federal or State law.

Cities have broad police power to regulate activities within their jurisdiction.  Cities, as well as other local agencies, are beginning to examine regulating drone use in three different ways:

  • Licensing.  Cities may require drone operators to obtain business licenses in general, or more specific commercial activity permits.  Both may include specific restrictions on operating parameters.
  • Purpose Restrictions.  Local agencies may enact restrictions to protect privacy and promote safety.  For instance, in the absence of State law, some cities are considering warrant requirements.  Others are considering privacy restrictions that go beyond the current State law.  Other cities are taking the opposite approach and are considering ordinances that would expressly permit use of drones by law enforcement.
  • Functional Use Restrictions.  Cities are considering regulating use by imposing time, place, and manner restrictions on drone use—for example prohibiting drones over particular intersections during commute hours.

Some local efforts may raise preemption issues depending on when and if the Federal or State government acts to occupy the field.  But many local efforts will not conflict with State or federal law and so all commercial operators should be aware of local efforts in their jurisdiction.

Expect the federal government to move slowly.  Expect the State government to try and fill some gaps. But look to your local jurisdiction to try and keep up with the rapid advances in drone technology.  2015 is going to be an interesting year for the drone industry.

Share This