Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as UAVs or drones, are increasing in popularity.
Federal law on drones
Right now, anyone must register a drone that weighs between 0.55 and 55 pounds with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Additionally, no one can fly a drone within five miles of an airport.
There are some additional federal regulations for anyone flying a drone for commercial or government purposes. For example, anyone flying a drone for commercial purposes must get a remote pilot certificate from the FAA.
The FAA argues that in most cases their federal regulation trumps all state and local drone laws. They allow that states and municipalities can pass laws around “land use, zoning, privacy, trespass, and law enforcement operations.”
NH law on drones
There is only one New Hampshire law specifically regulating drones, RSA 207:57. That law makes it a violation — similar to a speeding ticket — to use a drone to conduct video surveillance of anyone lawfully hunting, trapping, or fishing without their consent. That law includes an exception for law enforcement and Fish and Game Department personnel.
The New Hampshire Legislature has considered many other bills to regulate drones, but none have passed.
Law enforcement use of drones in NH
Several police departments in New Hampshire have purchased drones, including Strafford County and Derry. They are used for a range of purposes, including tracking suspects, search and rescue operations, inspections and investigations. More departments have plans to purchase drones in the near future or are investigating implementing a drone program.
There are currently no restrictions on law enforcement use of drones in the Granite State.
Possible drone laws
To protect privacy and public safety, New Hampshire and other states have considered the following drone laws:
- Restricting the use of drones over public property, particularly critical infrastructure such as prisons, power plants, etc.
- Restricting the use of drones over private property without the consent of the property owners
- Prohibiting the use of drones for harassment/stalking
- Making it a crime to operate a drone while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Banning weaponized drones for the public and/or law enforcement
- Requiring law enforcement to get a warrant before using a drone in an investigation, and to delete any irrelevant data gathered by drone within 24 hours
- Requiring law enforcement to publicly report drone use
- Requiring drone operators to purchase liability insurance
- Requiring drone operators to keep the drone within view
- Requiring drone operators to label a drone with identifying information
"NH should have more state laws regulating the use of drones."
- The FAA is primarily concerned with ensuring a safe airspace over the United States, not with protecting the privacy of citizens. New Hampshire needs to enact state laws to prevent people from invading others’ privacy with drones. There are already many examples of drones flying over backyard sunbathers and peeping into second-story windows.
- There are many examples of drones dropping contraband over prisons in the U.S. and Canada, and several other states have laws against flying a drone over a prison. These examples prove that people will use drones with bad intentions and New Hampshire needs to make clear this behavior will have criminal consequences.
- While it is true that people generally do not have an expectation of privacy in public, drones create detailed, enduring recordings that cannot be compared to the impact of one person watching another person on the street. For that reason, New Hampshire’s privacy laws need to be updated to limit when, where, and how drones can record people in public. This includes how long law enforcement can keep drone recordings of innocent bystanders as part of a criminal investigation.
"NH should not have more state laws regulating the use of drones."
- Congress and federal courts have yet to draw a clear line on what states can and cannot regulate when it comes to drones, so any New Hampshire law on drones could open the state to a lawsuit. New Hampshire should wait to pass drone regulations until the federal law is clarified.
- Many proposed drone regulations could interfere with legitimate drone use by businesses and law enforcement. For example, a limit on flying cameras over private property could get in the way of insurance investigators that use drones to surveil fraudsters. Law enforcement have opposed some drone regulations because the laws could interfere with the ability to use cameras during an active pursuit.
- There are already New Hampshire laws prohibiting stalking, harassment, and other privacy invasions. These laws are adequate to protect New Hampshire citizens regardless of what technology an offender uses.