It’s either a sign of paranoia or the machines are indeed invading America. In a small Colorado town, residents are expected to vote on whether it’s legal to shoot down drones.
The 550 residents of Deer Trail, Colorado will vote on a measure this spring that would allow them to pay $25 for a drone-hunting license. The proposed ordinance would declare that flying a drone into Deer Trail airspace constitutes an act of war. Any resident with the permit would be able to fire three shots - no more - at any drone that flies lower than 1,000 feet.
The law was the brainchild of Phillip Steel, a local resident who fears drones will be used to spy on him and others. Those who argue that Steel and some other residents are overreacting would have a good case. According to the Los Angeles Times, there have never been any reports of drones flying over the small town outside Denver. And the city’s Mayor Frank Fields told the Times that the law is simply a way to generate revenue at a time when city council can’t pass a sales tax.
But the measure is also a sign of just how quickly drones have become a part of popular culture, and are part of a growing trend. While it does not appear that any city or state is considering a bill that would make it legal to hunt drones, many are exploring bills, or have already passed legislation, that would limit their use.
- Last week in Massachusetts, a bill that would require a warrant to use drones to survey and forbid them from being mounted with weapons, was considered by a state Transportation Committee.
- In North Carolina, lawmakers were briefed last week on how drones could be used to help traffic flow and aid farmers.
- Last year, Idaho and Virginia became the first states to pass laws limiting the use of drones in law enforcement.
These kinds of laws will go a long way in determining how much a drone could invade personal civil liberties. When it comes to the use of drones by the general public, however, case law is thin. There are few rulings on how, when and why drones can be used by the general public, and under what circumstances a citizen could shoot them down.
There also is not a lot of case law on how businesses could use drones. Last year, Amazon announced that it was exploring the possibility of using drones to deliver products. Lakemaid Beer, a brewery in frigid Minnesota, is testing drones to deliver beer to customers cut off by ice and snow (a video of a test is here). In Chicago, drones are being used to sell real estate.
Last year the Atlantic chronicled the case of a woman in Seattle whose husband confronted a man when she noticed he was flying a drone near her property. Once confronted, the man said he was doing nothing illegal; he even said that his drone had a camera and that he was doing “research.” Police declined to get involved when the man left.
The thought that anyone could fly a drone over private property without legal repercussion is a scary one. So perhaps the residents of Deer Trail are just forward thinking.
For now, it appears as if Deer Trail is unique in considering hunting licenses for drones. John Villasenor, an expert on the laws governing domestic drone use at Brookings, told the Atlantic that similar proposals would be a “terrible” idea.
But for Phil Steel, legal consequences be damned: it’s his right as an American to hunt drones.
“I have declared the sovereignty and the supremacy of the airspace of my town," he said, according to the Times. "This is an act of sedition, and I proudly state that."
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