As the old saying states, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Georgia House Bill 779 is yet another paving stone in that road. Officially described as, “A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Title 16 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to crimes and offenses, so as to regulate the use of unmanned aircraft systems and images captured by such systems;” HB 779 seems to be the consequence of the same line of thinking that led to the drafting of HB 731, a bill that calls for the confiscation and seizure of certain firearms. While HB 779 calls for neither seizure nor confiscation, it has the same effect; almost without exception, it turns the flying of an Unmanned Aircraft System, (UAS) also referred to as a drone, into a criminal offense.
The stated purpose of the bill is, “to regulate the use of unmanned aircraft systems in connection to hunting and fishing; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes“. Yet the broad language and “for other purposes” statement would appear to make the legislation applicable to any drone flight regardless of location or purpose.
Although the authors of this bill conducted several investigative meetings, it appears they missed, or ignored several obvious detrimental consequences of their proposed legislation. This is clearly demonstrated in the final report of the House Study Committee on the use of Drones, which contains references to the committee’s desire to, “encourage industry expansion within the state”, “Look for opportunities to encourage venture capitalists to help with startups in Georgia” and to, “Continue to encourage our universities and technical colleges to find ways to get involved.”
Encouraging any form of drone technology or activity is going to be extremely difficult in the face of the overly restrictive and burdensome legislation that is HB 779. In essence, the Committee is attempting to attract venture capitalists, start-ups, university programs and the attendant economic benefits with legislation that essentially outlaws the technology of the companies and programs it is trying to attract.
The opening salvo against drone activity is section 16-11-216 which states, “Unless authorized by the owner of the real property, it shall be unlawful to take off from or recover a drone from private or public property.” Consequently, any drone flight that does not take off and land on the property of a drone owner is at high risk of being illegal. Every drone flight has the potential to require an unanticipated landing. Prior to takeoff, it is impossible to secure permission from a property owner when there was no preexisting intent to use his or her property.
Of equal if not greater concern is the prohibition against take offs and landing from public property. It seems discriminatory to make drone use on public lands illegal, when walking, hiking, photography and a host of other recreational activities are permitted.
Yet the takeoff and landing prohibitions are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. HB 779 defines an image as, “any capturing of sound waves, thermal, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light, or other electromagnetic waves, odor, or other conditions existing on or about real property in this state or an individual located on such property.” As attorney Elizabeth Wharton states in her blog post, “Flawed From the Start & Missing the Mark: Georgia’s Proposed Anti-Drone Legislation”;
“This definition of “image” and resulting application within the statute becomes problematic in part within the context of how unmanned aircraft systems, cell phones, and all other “connected devices” function. In each instance, the devices use some form of electromagnetic wave to communicate and connect. These radio frequency (RF) signals are constantly being sent and received. The resulting communication data is automatically transmitted and saved by the devices. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deems the RF signals from the fitness tracker around my wrist or the signals sent from an individual’s pacemaker, for example, to be one and the same as the individual. Here, the RF signal from my fitness tracker captured by an unmanned aircraft system flying overhead could expose the drone’s operator to civil penalties when they sync and send the flight data. Each captured signal (image) equates to a separate offense under the language of HB 779.”
That isn’t to infer that HB has no redeeming qualities. However, those are completely overshadowed by the bill’s onerous provisions that will stifle use of and development of drones and drone technology within the state.
In its final report, the House Study Committee noted one of its goals was to “Continue to monitor FAA Regulations with regards to registration requirements of hobbyist operators. The committee does not want to duplicate the process or hinder the industry.”
The Committee may not want to hinder the industry, but with HB 779 as originally introduced, it does just that.