Pando

The New York City Council shows how hard it is to regulate drones

By Nathaniel Mott , written on December 18, 2014

From The News Desk

Competing bills introduced to the New York City Council highlight the difficulties legislators encounter when seeking to regulate drone use in their jurisdictions.

One, introduced by Councilman Dan Garodnick, would prevent almost anyone from flying drones within the city's limits. The only exception would be made for law enforcement officials who receive a warrant to use one of the unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance.

"The technology has gotten ahead of our regulations, and there are real privacy concerns here," Garodnick told the New York Daily News. "New York City is a densely populated area, which means there are also safety concerns with drones for property and people."

His bill would limit drone usage and, in stark contrast to other regulators' approach to technological tools used by law enforcement, would force police to get a warrant to follow someone around with a drone instead of allowing them to surveil whomever they desire.

The bill introduced by Paul Vallone, on the other hand is not so draconian. Instead, it would require drone pilots to abide by a litany of rules regarding where they can be flown, how high they can go, what the drones are used for, and what the drone is carrying.

"We are not really looking to tackle someone who got a gift under the Christmas tree and they are doing it in their backyard or a park," Vallone said when the bills were announced on Wednesday, according to CBS New York. "[But now] there will finally be something in place for NYPD and our enforcement agencies to say, ‘This is not acceptable anymore.'"

The problem with Vallone's bill is that it lifts limits on using drones as surveillance tools for police without specifying that the restrictions would only be removed if a warrant is issued.

Which leaves the council with two competing bills that seek to curb drone usage in New York. One would prevent ordinary citizens from using the increasingly popular products in the city altogether while also restricting police usage; the other would allow consumers to fly drones with some limitations and doesn't seem as worried about law enforcement abuse.

The councilmen have vowed to work together to find some middle ground between their two proposals. One would hope they choose the best aspects of each bill -- allowing limited consumer use while also restricting police activities -- to create some sensible legislation.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]