Broadly speaking, professional use of image-capturing drones is considered lawful. Professors, real estate brokers, and land surveyors need not worry about using them in their work. Government agencies are also expressly given the green light. The FAA, the military, mapping satellites and unmanned aircraft used for port authority surveillance are all deemed lawful, as are practically any uses imaginable by law enforcement agents.
Property owners are protected by the bill’s requirement that they must give consent for images to be captured on their property. Also given express rights to use unmanned drones are electric or natural gas utility companies and the owners/operators of oil, gas, water or other pipelines.
For the activists among our readership who were paying particular attention during the Standing Rock protests, this may start to raise red flags. Many of us were made aware of the atrocities committed by local law enforcement and the pipeline workers themselves because of the work of citizen journalists who were on the scene. When the barricades kept protesters from being within range to take photographs or videos, drones allowed us to see what we otherwise could not have. Similarly, over the years may activists have made use of unmanned drones to bring us images of spills that were unreported or under-reported by mainstream media.
This bill would seem to have the effect of criminalizing this sort of photojournalism. Perhaps it’s an unintentional oversight. However, the bill does mention that law enforcement agents are allowed to use drones to capture images of hazardous material spills, which leads one to believe that spills of this sort were on the minds of the bill’s authors. Unfortunately, if the fact that no express permission is given to average citizens to capture images of such spills is an oversight, it might be something that we want to bring to their attention.