Editorial: Prohibit guns on drones, protect privacy

The Detroit News

Flying guns might not be something you worried about on the way to work today, but lawmakers have introduced a bill in the Michigan House to make sure you never have to.

The legislation, introduced in June, would outlaw drones with guns or other weapons attached. It’s a good idea, even if problems with such concoctions haven’t yet occurred.

It also raises the issue of other measures the state should take to address privacy and safety concerns still outstanding in the legal framework around drone technology.

Clearly, attaching weapons to small flying devices shouldn’t be legal, regardless of whether the owner possesses a license to carry his or her weapon. Just as it’s illegal to attach weapons to unmanned booby traps, flying firearms should be reserved for military and law enforcement use only.

But Michigan’s laws surrounding other uses for drones are also still too vague.

The Federal Aviation Authority had registered almost 400,000 drones between January, when it first launched its online registration system, and March of this year.

As sales and personal use of drones continue to increase, legislation should keep up.

Right now, Michigan’s laws specifically on drone use pertain only to hunting.

Users are prohibited from using a drone to interfere with or harass an individual who is hunting, and drones aren’t allowed to take game.

But there’s no statute to prohibit drones from unlawful surveillance of people or property.

Michigan’s unlawful surveillance statute, part of the state’s penal code, doesn’t adequately cover drone operations. It’s questionable whether the present language would hold up in court against drone operators who might have trespassed on property, or who might have eavesdropped.

Language should be added to that code to clarify that drones can’t violate otherwise established privacy rights, or separate legislation should be considered to specifically address the issue.

Legislation has been introduced in the Senate that would clarify property’s owners rights to airspace directly above their actual property, to the point where it conflicts with federal law, which has general jurisdiction over most airspace throughout the country. That would mean other property owners must grant permission before a drone user could enter their airspace.

That bill, too, would help address some of these outstanding issues.

The FAA recently issued guidelines for the operation of drones, and that should help clear up some of the technical questions surrounding their use.

But the guidelines don’t address privacy concerns or other potential criminal activity.

The majority of states throughout the country have issued some form of law on drone use, and several — including at least California, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah and Florida — have laws pertaining to privacy and voyeurism.

While Michigan doesn’t need to onerously over-regulate drones simply because they’re new technology, it should consider some updates to legislation to secure privacy and safety for citizens and property owners.