Panel OKs bill to stop drones

It would be illegal to use drones to conduct surveillance on individuals or private property under a bill that cleared a state Senate panel Tuesday.

“This is an issue that’s coming about due to technology,” said bill sponsor state Sen. Dan Claitor.

“Just because you can do it with technology doesn’t mean that it’s right or you should,” said Claitor. “Just because the police could fly the drone into my backyard — if they don’t have probable cause or a search warrant, they should not be allowed to do so.”

“If we sit idly by, I believe there are significant 4th Amendment (privacy) concerns,” said Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary C approved an amended form of Senate Bill 330 and shipped it to the Senate floor for further debate.

The legislation would establish civil and criminal penalties for the illegal use of unmanned aircraft with the intent of spying on individuals or their property. It also would be illegal to possess an image captured via illegal surveillance or disclose, display, distribute or otherwise use such an image.

There would be exceptions on the use of the drones for the military, homeland security and law enforcement in certain circumstances or if the property owner or occupant of the property consents.

So far, 16 states have adopted 20 laws dealing with various aspects of the use of drones.

On Tuesday, the Louisiana Senate approved a measure, sponsored by state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, that would make it a crime to use drones over critical infrastructure such as chemical plants, oil refineries and water treatment facilities. White promoted Senate Bill 356 as an anti-terrorism and homeland security measure. That bill is pending consideration by the Louisiana House.

Approval of Claitor’s bill came over the objection of the Louisiana Press Association, which argued the legislation would interfere with newsgathering activities.

Claitor said he would work with the Press Association on potential amendments. He said the objections were the first he’d heard from the LPA.

“The 1st Amendment does not trump the 4th Amendment. Newsgathering has its place,” Claitor said. “I think we can find some consensus, but I’m not going to give up on the right to privacy.”

State Sen . Robert Adley, R-Benton, said he wants his privacy but recognizes there are some news events that “the public wants to see” that would be off-limits under Claitor’s bill.

State Sen. Fred Mills, R-St. Martinville, said in his area a public works department cut down some trees on private property. “If the press hadn’t investigated, the issue would never have been brought to the forefront,” he said.

Mills also wondered how the legislation would impact groups like the Atchafayla Basin Keepers which monitors oil rig activity.

“I understand they believe they have a noble purpose but noble purpose does not override my property rights,” said Claitor. “If you can legally go in with your boat, you can legally go in using a drone.”