As originally proposed, Georgia House Bill (HB) 779 was fraught with sufficient ambiguity and lack of sensible definition as to be an affront to logic. The original wording also smacked of the over-reach that is characteristic only of federal agencies run amok.
A subsequent revision brought clarity and eliminated a good bit of over-reach, but still smacked of a knee-jerk reaction to isolated issues, and an attempt to serve special interests. Concurrently, the Georgia Senate was dealing with Senate Bill (SB) 325, legislation that called for the establishment of a 15-member committee to evaluate the benefits that the unmanned aircraft industry could bring to the state. and to identify policies that properly address concerns about privacy and public safety.
On March 22nd, the House passed (by a 136-27 vote) an amended version of HB 779 that was approved by the senate on March 16. As passed, except for the bill number, the legislation bears virtually no resemblance to the original version. In its as-passed form, HB 779 establishes the committee originally proposed in SB 325 and declares (with exceptions) “Any ordinance, resolution, regulation, or policy of any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of this state regulating the testing or operation of unmanned aircraft systems shall be deemed preempted and shall be null, void, and of no force and effect;” (Exceptions include; local ordinances passed on or before April 1, 2016 are allowed, as are ordinances that enforce FAA regulations. Local governments are also permitted to pass legislation that provides for or prohibits the launching and intentional landing of unmanned aircraft on its public property, “except with respect to the operation of an unmanned aircraft system for commercial purposes”.
The approved version of HB 779 also modifies the penalty for violating existing wiretapping, eavesdropping and surveillance laws as defined in section 16-11-62 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA). That code section contains a laundry list of eavesdropping and surveillance activities that are illegal including a specific paragraph that makes it unlawful for, “Any person in a clandestine manner intentionally to overhear, transmit, or record or attempt to overhear, transmit, or record the private conversation of another which shall originate in any private place;”
With respect to drone operators, the operative word here is “intentionally”. Wording in this code section stands in stark contrast to that in the original version of HB 779, which made unintentional capturing of “images” (defined as digital data in virtually any form) illegal. OCGA section 16-11-62 contains other paragraphs which focus on protecting privacy in general, thereby demonstrating the frivolity of drone-specific privacy protection legislation.
As passed, HB 779 is no longer drone-killing and in fact has little impact on safe and sensible drone operation. It essentially treats drone photography and videography the same as it does ground based operations, thereby eliminating the most onerous provisions of the original bill.