Potential new penalties for criminal misuse of drones

By Andi TenBarge

INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers are working to develop specific  language in a bill that would create penalties for Hoosiers who fly drones and knowingly violate a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

“What is a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy?” Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, asked. “To one person their privacy means one thing, but to another person privacy means something else.”

Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, explains to a committee Tuesday why he wants punishment for anyone who flies drones and knowingly violates a person’s privacy. Photo by Andi TenBarge, TheStatehouseFile.com

The author of Senate Bill 299, Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said the bill creates four new Class A Misdemeanors for drone users who commit the following:

  • If a sex offender knowingly or intentionally operates a drone to capture images or recordings of one or more individuals;
  • Uses drones to obstruct law enforcement, firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians or other emergency personnel who are trying to perform official duties;
  • Knowingly commits aerial harassment;
  • Commits aerial voyeurism if the drone enters the space above or surrounding another person’s dwelling.

Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, raised questions about the bill’s language on aerial voyeurism and the space surrounding another person’s dwelling.

“I don’t know what the difference is of having a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) up 20 feet or 30 feet when I have a two-story house I’m up about 20 feet or 30 feet,” Young said. “I’m looking out my window I see the same thing as a UAV and I’m on the surrounding property, but I’m on my property.”

Chad Budreau, the director of government affairs for the Academy of Model Aeronautics, advised lawmakers to stick with Indiana’s current law about drone use and the invasion of privacy.

“Indiana has the option to rely on existing tort law or going down what I fear would be a slippery slope of identifying every unique use case, every unique technology, every unique scenario,” Budreau said. “Technology is going to constantly evolve whether it’s the Kodak disposable cameras or multirotors.”

The bill also enhances the penalty to a Level 6 felony if the footage captured is published. A person convicted of a Level 6 felony generally would either serve a short jail sentence or community supervision.

Jamar Cobb-Dennard, with the Hoosier State Press Association, also mentioned concerns with how the bill could infringe on the First Amendment rights of television news organizations.

Young, the chairman of the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, said he plans to hold Koch’s bill in committee to take a closer look at the proposed language before taking a vote.

Andi TenBarge is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news site powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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