DES MOINES — State agencies’ or individuals’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles to gather information would face regulation under legislation Iowa House lawmakers discussed Thursday.
Lawmakers said with the advancements and accessibility of drone technology, it’s important to protect the public and their privacy.
“I think this is such an important issue as technology increases and drones become cheaper, these can be used as harassment … not only by state agencies but by private individuals,” said Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield. “That’s why we’re moving this forward.”
The bill discussed during a subcommittee meeting Thursday would prevent state agencies and individuals from using remote-operated vehicles, often referred to as drones, from monitoring, recording or harassing individuals.
Iowa does not have laws concerning drone use. In 2013, 13 states enacted drone-related legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Law enforcement agencies would be required to obtain search warrants in order to use drones to gather information or in a criminal investigation.
Ankeny Police Chief Gary Mikulec, also with the Iowa Police Chiefs Association, said although he’s not aware of Iowa law enforcement utilizing the unmanned aerial vehicles, he cautioned against restricting the practice because it could hinder safety procedures in the future.
“When I look at what we presently do, there’s so many possibilities to use (drones) and effectively use our time better and personnel better and create a safer environment for our police officers,” he said.
Mikulec rattled off several scenarios in which police officials could use drone assistance, including aerial observances of car crashes and standoffs, finding missing children or overseeing crowds at parades or festivals.
The legislation gives state agencies and law enforcement ability to use drones in an emergency situation in which an “imminent threat” to life or safety exists, a search warrant is obtained or they are used on public property.
The proposal limits individual use of drones to obtain information or data on another person or private property "with intent to conduct surveillance, or to harass, follow, or intimidate another person." The drones could not be equipped with weapons or capabilities to emit sounds.
Baudler said drone legislation was proposed last year but died. Subcommittee Chairman Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said he remains positive legislation will be passed this year.
“I think we’re going to get it done here, and we’ll probably have to address it in the future because technology is going to continuously change,” he said. “And as it gets less expensive, it’s easier for bad actors to abuse it and make it harder for the good people that aren’t trying to misuse that stuff.”