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TL;DR

-Nebraska’s Proposed Drone bill doesn’t achieve the goal of increasing public safety.
-Using an electronic device to stream or record people while they’re naked is illegal without consent, and also creepy.
-Using a drone to spy on people would be illegal, but using a drone and accidentally capturing footage of someone would still be fine.
-Flying over private property below 300 feet would be illegal so long as the property owner tells you you’re not allowed to do so.
-Sex offenders would no longer be able to do things they’re currently not allowed to do, but with a drone.
-Flying over “Critical Infrastructure Facilities” (which includes more than you would think) would be illegal.
-Also, no flying over schools.
-No flying near prisons, unless your flight starts at least 500 feet away from the prison, and then is done at least 300 feet above the prison… That’s fine.
-No more drones above crime scenes or police cordons.
-Other random things you would no longer be allowed to do include using drones for hunting, or hunting hunters for purposes of disrupting their hunting, or chasing cows, sheep, ducks, chickens, pigs, or other associated livestock.
-Part 107 Operators can do things that others cannot.

Ready to read the full analysis? Click here or scroll down.

As Nebraska’s most advanced drone service provider, we at Digital Sky, like to be somewhat active in legislation that could potentially affect our industry and ultimately our livelihoods, which is why we got special access to Nebraska Senator Carol Blood’s proposed drone bill ahead of the official release. Please note that due to the fact that writing out exact quotations from the bill is a painstaking process of formatting and such, I’ve summarized my quotations from the bill. The words might be different, but the substance is the same. Anyway… Let’s proceed, shall we?

This isn’t a discussion on the legality of the state or other non-federal governments creating their own drone regulations. You may agree or disagree that they’ve got the right to do that, that’s fine. I’m sure there will be some lawsuit that will clear that up for all of us at some point. What this is, however, is an in-depth look at the proposed regulation right here in Nebraska, and what it means for the average drone hobbyist, the commercial drone pilot, and the public.

First, what I’ve found with this proposed bill is that even though Senator Blood’s goal is “increasing public safety,” it really does very little to do that, which is a problem if you’re passing a public safety bill. Why? Because it simply makes things illegal, but we’ve seen with so many other laws that criminals don’t follow the law… Additionally, the acts that it makes illegal such as flying over critical infrastructure, don’t really make the public any more safe than before because the bill basically says “This is illegal and you’ve committed a misdemeanor. Oh wait, you didn’t know that you couldn’t do that? Oh ok. Well now you do, so don’t do it next time.” (click to tweet)

What exactly does the bill say? First, the bill makes it illegal for anyone to “stream” video of someone naked, so long as the person being streamed has not given consent. Easy enough. Don’t use your drone to try to look at people naked, or your phone, or anything else really because that’s just creepy and you shouldn’t be creepy. Note: Doing this is basically already illegal, the bill specifically adds the word “stream” to existing law because “record” wasn’t specific enough.

The bill then goes a bit further and says flying your drone above, into, or upon someone else’s property in attempts to spy on them is illegal, so long as you’re doing it on purpose and don’t accidentally just capture an image of someone through an open window, or skylight, or something. Intentionally spying on someone with a drone would now be a Class I misdemeanor, but like I said before… Only if you knew before the fact that it was illegal.

Are you a sex offender? If so, pay attention to this paragraph, if not, feel free to skip. The bill says that anyone registered as a sex offender commits the offense of “unmanned aircraft harassment by a sex offender” if they operate a drone for purposes of following or photographing individuals, or if they’re subject to a protection order or a condition of probation or parole that prohibits such behavior. I guess if you’re going to make it unlawful for someone to do something, you might as well make it unlawful for someone to do that same thing with a drone instead of in person? Seems redundant to me, but I’m no lawyer.

Then the bill get’s into the nitty gritty of making it illegal for people to fly over things, which is what I have the most skepticism towards because without a search and seizure of equipment by law enforcement can you really tell if a drone was over somewhere it shouldn’t have been, at an altitude lower than allowed? According to the bill “a person commits second degree criminal trespass by unmanned aircraft if they fly a drone at a height of less than 300 feet above ground level over property lawfully owned or occupied by another person.” But… this only counts if the person flying the drone knows that they’re not licensed to fly over private property, and they’ve already been warned by the property owner or occupant that flying a drone over the property is not allowed. This is somewhat helpful if you’ve got a pesky neighbor that is flying their drone over your property, and for some reason you feel like you own the sky. But for anyone who want’s to put a drone ban over their place of dwelling, sorry, you’ll have to actually communicate with every potential drone operator that could potentially fly over your property. This also doesn’t help venues like concerts, county fairs, venues etc., cut down on drone flights because the drone pilot has to receive “actual communication” that what they’re doing is trespassing. I suppose it helps prevent them from coming back multiple times, but not the first.

If you’re a commercial operator and that last paragraph had you worried, fear not, your Part 107 certificate exempts you from most of this so long as your flight directly relates to your work and you’re flying according to all Federal Aviation Regulations.

WARNING: This next section of the bill may cause you to question why certain things that are labeled “critical infrastructure facilities” are labeled as such.

Section 10 of the bill makes it illegal for anyone to fly a drone at a height of less than 300 feet above any “critical infrastructure facility” so long as that person isn’t a cop, a public utility worker or subcontractor, or a part 107 operator (you guys can drop down to 200 feet, no prob). What is a critical infrastructure facility? Good Question. Let me answer it: Any public power infrastructure facility defined in section 28-520 (ex. Electrical substations, power plants, etc); petroleum refinery; chemical, polymer, or rubber manufacturing facility; water intake structure, water treatment facility, wastewater treatment plant or pump station; natural gas compressor station; liquid natural gas terminal or storage facility; telecommunications central switching office; port, railroad switching yard, trucking terminal, or other freight facility; gas processing plant; radio and television stations; steelmaking facilities that use electric arc furnaces; or dams classified as high hazard potential dams.

So… No flying your drone over any of those, below 300 feet. Why you’d want to? I don’t know. Seems kinda boring to me. Oh also, the bill says you can’t fly over schools unless you’re over 300 feet above them, but doesn’t really go on to say whether they consider the actual school building as the “school” or if it includes “school grounds or property” in that too. Throw prisons in there too because why not. Oh wait, the bill actually does. “It’s illegal for anyone to fly a drone within a horizontal distance of 500 feet, or vertical distance of 300 feet from a penal institution (prison or jail)” unless of course that person has a part 107 certificate, then you can fly as close as 150 feet horizontally from the penal institution so long as you’ve notified the institution at least 24 hours prior to the flight and are flying for purposes of your business.

I don’t know about you, but if I were a prison guard, I’d want any drones flown over the prison to be below 300 feet, that way I’d actually have a chance of seeing them and reporting them to the proper authorities. Get a drone up to 400 feet and they become harder to see, harder to hear, and harder to report. Not to mention that if a criminal is using a drone they won’t care about the 400 foot rule, meaning dropping drugs or other contraband from 1000 feet would still be possible, it just wouldn’t be specifically illegal according to this public safety bill.

The bill makes it illegal to fly a drone over police cordons, which is defined as the area within the cordon and the airspace up to 300 feet above the cordoned area. Sorry all you drone journalists out there… no more getting awesome shots crime scenes for the nightly news.

There are some other little things in there, like making it illegal to put a gun or… knife on a drone, unless you’re a part of a governmental agency, then by all means lock and load. So if you’re hoping to do some aerial tree trimming by strapping a good ol’ fixed blade on there, you’re out of luck. Also, aerial spear hunting, not allowed with drones anymore… The last little bit of important information is for all you anti-hunters out there: Sorry, but you wouldn’t be allowed to use drones to harass hunters, nor would hunters be allowed to use drones to: search for, herd, or otherwise spook their prey. Come on people… If you need a drone to be a better hunter, can you really consider yourself a hunter in the first place?

The bill ends itself outlining what law enforcement can and can’t use a drone for. Which can be summarized by this: If you’re a cop and you’re wanting to use a drone for something you’d typically need a warrant for… get a warrant. Otherwise go for it.

All in all, not a great bill, but not a terrible one either. I think we’ll just label this one as misguided. Senator Blood has good intentions, but like so many in politics, she’s just poor at execution.

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Justin Kyser

Justin Kyser

CoFounder

Co-Founder of Digital Sky, Justin is widely seen as an expert on commercial drone use in the state of Nebraska. Justin is holds a part 61 certificate for commercial flight with an instrument rating, as well as a part 107 certificate for commercial drone flight.

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