Rethinking Drones

TAKEOFF—Drones can be used in many beneficial ways, but they must be regulated, local officials say.

Technology is advancing faster than the laws can keep up, forcing legislators to play catch-up when addressing the problems presented by the new and gizmos and gadgets.

The growing popularity of unmanned aerial systems, or drones, for example, has raised questions about privacy—if a drone mounted with a camera can fly over someone’s property, what recourse does the property owner have in defending their privacy?

At its Nov. 8 meeting, the Calabasas City Council discussed an ordinance to regulate the use of drones and give the sheriff’s department the ability to enforce the city’s new rules.

EYE IN THE SKY—A drone takes flight. Sales have rapidly increased. Courtesy of Ventura County Sheriff’s Office

Jim Jordan, Calabasas director of public safety and emergency preparedness, said the only current regulations concerning drone use are enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“(It is only) civil violations, so there’s nothing the sheriff’s department could do other than file a report and pass it along to the FAA,” Jordan said.

Calabasas put some teeth into the law and made drone violations in the city a misdemeanor, a criminal act.

“A deputy can write a citation, and if you’re convicted it can be up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fi ne,” Jordan said.

But the likelihood of anyone being jailed for a drone citation is low, he said.

Under federal laws, a drone can only be operated during daylight hours, and it can’t be flown within five miles of an airport. Additionally, a drone cannot be flown above private property without the property owner’s permission.

Rules specific to Calabasas prohibit the use of a drone within 200 feet of a school or 100 feet of a public event, such as the Calabasas Pumpkin Festival, without special permission.

FAA rules prohibit flying over crowds in case the drone malfunctions and falls. In Calabasas, however, drone owners can obtain permission to fly near city events.

The City of Calabasas owns one drone for official use, which is exempt from the local and federal laws.

“(The city) has used it at the Pumpkin Festival for The Buzz on the (Calabasas Channel). They’ve used it for the Lost Hills Interchange construction project bridge,” Jordan said.

“They’ve used it for monitoring traffic for a week when school starts at (A. C. Stelle Middle School), Calabasas High School and Viewpoint School, just to see how traffic i s backed up, how it’s flowing.”

Drones also are being used in local law enforcement.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office employs a 10-person team with four drones to help search for missing people, photograph crime and accident scenes, and assist the fire department in mapping brush fires, among other duties.

Like private citizens using drones, deputies must be aware of privacy issues.

“If we’re flying under 400 feet, we have to get a warrant because nobody wants us looking into their backyard,” said Sgt. Dennis Silva, a pilot on the Ventura County drone team.

“Deployed without proper regulation, drones equipped with facial recognition software, infrared technology, and speakers capable of monitoring personal conversations would cause unprecedented invasions of our privacy rights,” the ACLU says on its website.

Drones have become increasingly popular in recent years.

The Consumer Technology Association, an electronics industry trade organization, reported that 2.4 million drones were sold for personal use in 2016, more than double the 1.1 million sold in 2015. [Click for More]