New bills address complex issues of aerial drones

TRENTON – The escalating issue of aerial drones – law enforcement tool or an invasion of privacy – is showing up in newly proposed legislation.

At least two bills have been introduced, one of which would ban drones in New Jersey except in narrow circumstances, the other of which would allow them but attach restrictions.

A4091, introduced by Sen. Eric Peterson, (R-23), would keep the skies above the Garden State almost totally free of drones.

A4073, whose sponsors include Assembly members Vincent Prieto, (D-32); Dan Benson, (D-14); and Marlene Caride, (D-36), would prohibit law enforcement from using a drone unless there are reasonable grounds to assume the information being collected is relevant to an investigation.

Among other uses, the bill specifies drones could be used in missing persons searches, and they could be used to assess the extent of a forest fire.

The bill states that any data collected that is unrelated to a criminal investigation must be discarded within two weeks.

The bill also specifies that no drone could be equipped with any kind of firearm.

Peterson’s bill goes farther in preventing drone use.

It says that a law enforcement agency is prohibited from utilizing a drone unless the United States Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security determines that “credible intelligence indicates that the use of a drone is necessary to counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization.”

This bill also carves out some exceptions, such as for forest fire assessments, but it specifically prohibits use of drones to enforce land use and building regulations by local governments.

It also would allow someone whose image was illegally taken by a drone the right to sue in court. 

The bills have been assigned to the Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.

New bills address complex issues of aerial drones