A few Iowa legislators are diving into the topic of drones, considering a bill that would set up some restrictions for unmanned aerial vehicles. A statehouse hearing today attracted supporters and detractors of drones. Bruce Beeston of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association called drones “a safety hazard.”
“These vehicles, as they fly around, they’re controlled by somebody at some distant point. It could be somebody sitting in a van someplace, somebody in a building 100 miles away. They have no idea what’s around them because the cameras in these units look downward. They don’t look around them,” Beeson said. “…In south Asia and Iraq and so forth these drones have flown into other aircraft because they have no idea where they’re going.”
Beeson urged legislators to regulate how they’re flown and at what altitudes drones may fly. Latrice Lacey, an attorney who works for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, told legislators her group is concerned about how law enforcement will use drones.
“We would like to see that (the bill) requires a search warrant based on probable cause,” Lacey said. “We would also like to make sure that private interests and First Amendment rights are protected in whatever legislation is enacted.”
Ankeny Police Chief Gary Mikulec told legislators drones can be a valuable tool for law enforcement dealing not only with crimes, but with natural disasters and large crowds at public events.
“So I’d like you to think about those types of exceptions and the reasons we would use it in law enforcement,” said Mikulec, who was speaking on behalf of the Iowa Police Chiefs Association.
Mikulec also cautioned legislators not to craft restrictions that might freeze the drone-making industry out of the state.
“This could be about a $13 billion industry in the next five years and it will possibly generate 70,000 new jobs and 30,000 manufacturing jobs. A lot of them point to agriculture,” Mikulec said. “I would hate to think that Iowa would act too quickly on this bill and essentially shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Legislators on a five-member subcommittee say they’ll continue to work on the bill to address privacy concerns.