One Nation, Under Drones

It is estimated that over half a million drones were sold in 2014.1 That number is expected to significantly increase for 2015.2 As more individuals gain access to drones, more uses, questions, and concerns arise regarding drone use. Restaurants use drones to broadcast promotions;3 managers use drones to monitor progress of construction projects (but not to monitor employees, apparently);4 and every day people use drones to garner YouTube views.5 There are many ways to use drones but very few laws regulating them.

Recently, however, North Dakota passed legislation that would allow police to equip drones with non-lethal weapons such as Tasers, pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag cannons, and various other weapons – adding to the list of ways drones can be used.6 What actually started as an effort to prevent law enforcement from utilizing drones for surveillance of private property without a warrant ended with legislation that now allows police in North Dakota to equip drones with various non-lethal weapons.7 In addition, the drones would be allowed to fly up to 1,200 feet in civilian airspace, as opposed to the standard 400 feet limit.8

These developments in North Dakota are likely to spread to other states. Supporters of the bill applaud its willingness to provide law enforcement with the necessary resources to serve and protect.9 The supporters believe that those who have nothing to hide and have done nothing illegal will have nothing to worry about. They also believe that the use of weaponized drones creates a safer environment for police officers and for the public.10 Opponents of the legislation do not believe the developing situation is that simple. They point to the legal and ethical ramifications of such legislation. Opponents of the legislation worry that removal of individuals from the circumstances will lead to trigger-happy individuals sitting behind computer screens, miles away.11 Another prevalent concern with weaponized flying drones, and flying drones in general, is the worry that they may invade individual privacy rights and violate the Bill of Rights.12

Lastly, what is to prevent private individuals from using drones in a deceptive manner by pretending to be law enforcement? Although there is nothing stopping individuals from impersonating police officers, the amount of effort and resources required, and the likelihood of getting caught, prevents them from doing so. However, flying a deceptive drone from a remote location, pretending to be law enforcement appears to be much easier, and “safer” for potential imposters than the traditional alternative.

Rather than developing legislation to regulate the current uses of drones, the North Dakota legislature has opted, instead, to add to the long list of potential uses. This area of law is likely to change and expand exponentially in the coming months and years and any new developments will have to be followed very closely as they will have a lasting impact on laws regulating and promoting drone use.

  1. David Wagner, Weaponized Drones Approved For North Dakota Police, InformationWeek (Aug. 28, 2015, 9:06 AM), http://www.informationweek.com/government/weaponized-drones-approved-for-north-dakota-police/d/d-id/1321946.
  2. Robert Ferris, Do we need to put drones on a tighter leash? CNBC (Aug. 6, 2015, 11:47 AM), http://www.cnbc.com/2015/08/06/do-we-need-to-put-drones-on-a-tighter-leash.html.
  3. Laura Stampler, TGI Friday’s Seasonal Mistletoe Drone Literally Cut Off Part of Someone’s Nose, Time (Dec. 8, 2014), http://time.com/3624191/tgi-fridays-seasonal-mistletoe-drone-literally-cut-off-part-of-someones-nose.
  4. Anita Balakrishnan, Managers are using drones to monitor their employees, CNBC (Aug. 27, 2015, 11:44 AM), http://www.cnbc.com/2015/08/27/e-using-drones-to-monitor-their-employees.html.
  5. Dan Corcoran, Father says “Flying Gun” Drone Video Broke No Laws, NBC Connecticut (Jul. 22, 2015), http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/FAA-Police-Investigate-Drone-Gun-Clinton-Connecticut-Video-316368531.html.
  6. ustin Glawe, First State Legalizes Taser Drones for Cops, Thanks to a Lobbyist, The Daily Beast (Aug. 26, 2015), http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/26/first-state-legalizes-armed-drones-for-cops-thanks-to-a-lobbyist.html.
  7. Lily Hay Newman, North Dakota Police Drones Can Be Weaponized If They’re Not Lethal. Wait, What? Future Tense (Aug. 26, 2015, 7:43 PM), http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2015/08/26/north_dakota_house_bill_1328_amendment_allows_for_less_than_lethal_police.html.
  8. Id.
  9. Justin Glawe, First State Legalizes Taser Drones for Cops, Thanks to a Lobbyist, The Daily Beast (Aug. 26, 2015), http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/26/first-state-legalizes-armed-drones-for-cops-thanks-to-a-lobbyist.html.
  10. Id.
  11. Robert Garver, North Dakota Police Can Now Legally Use Taser Drones, CNBC (Aug. 28, 2015), http://www.cnbc.com/2015/08/28/north-dakota-police-can-now-legally-use-taser-drones.html.
  12. Alan Pyke, North Dakota Allows Cops To Arm Their Drones With Tasers and Tear Gas, Think Progress (Aug 26, 2015, 1:44 PM), http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/08/26/3695588/north-dakota-taser-drones.

Author: Parampreet Singh

Parampreet Singh is a second year law student at Rutgers School of Law and an Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2014 with a major in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy. While pursuing his undergraduate degree, Param interned for the United States Congress, the United States Senate and for the Office of the Governor of the State of New Jersey. Param completed his senior thesis entitled The Effects of Financial Crises on Far Right Political Movements. In the summer of 2015, Param was a 1L Summer Associate at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP. Currently, Param is on the executive board of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA). Additionally, he serves as a Trustee for the Saddle Brook Board of Education and is an avid lover of cheesecake.