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Lawmaker Seeks to Curb Civilian Drone Use

For $200 you can go to an electronics store, buy a remote control helicopter, strap a camera to it and fly it over your neighbor’s property and peek through the windows. As Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports, now a state lawmaker wants to put a stop to all that.

The legislation crafted by Rep. Bob Thorpe would make it illegal to use an unmanned drone to observe individuals or private property without permission. He said this will plug gaps in laws designed to protect privacy.

“I think of it in terms of almost being a duplicate, if you will, a avatar of the human. In other words, if you saw a kid climb over your fence in your backyard to retrieve a ball, you probably wouldn’t have a problem with that. If you saw and adult climb in your backyard and walk to your window and stare through your window — as a drone could do — that would be concerning to you,” Thorpe said.

His measure would make anyone who uses a remote controlled drone in that way guilty of trespass. But, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said the act does not fit the legal definition of trespass.

“You have to knowingly enter a property that someone has control over. And you have to know you don’t get to do that. You know what I mean? It’s entering or remaining unlawfully on the property. Well, the air space above it is not on the property,” LaWall said.

Another provision of Thorpe’s measure would require police to get a warrant before using drones to monitor individuals, a requirement that does not exist to tail someone with a helicopter. But Thorpe said the fact drones are so cheap makes for a big potential for abuse.

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