Mt. Vernon Register-News

March 28, 2013

County considers anti-drone ordinance

By RICK HAYES rick.hayes@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — MT. VERNON — While the Jefferson County Board tabled action on Monday, it is considering an ordinance to ban drones in the county's airspace.

"Drones present an unreasonable and unacceptable threat to public safety in the air and to persons and property on the ground in the County of Jefferson due to limitations in drone 'vision,' capability to avoid other aircraft and adequate control and armed drones and surveillance drones present an unreasonable and acceptable threat to the rights of individual privacy, freedom of association and assembly, equal protection and judicial due process in the County of Jefferson," the ordinance reads.

"Therefore, drones are hereby banned from airspace over the County of Jefferson, including drones in transit. Flying of a drone within the airspace of the County of Jefferson shall be considered a gross misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine not to exceed $5,000. More than one offense of flying a drone within the airspace will be considered felonies, with jail time and fines based on the number of violations. Drones will not be purchased, leased, borrowed, tested or otherwise used by any agency of the County of Jefferson."

Unmanned aerial vehicles are not allowed in U.S. general airspace because of the threat they present to other aircraft. Under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 the FAA is directed to create regulations that will enable drones to fly throughout U.S. airspace by September 2015. However, small drones, 25 pounds or under, are now permitted to fly in general airspace below 400 feet for the use of police and first responders, with FAA permission.

Information states that drones at times have gotten out of human control, on at least one occasion having to be shot down, and drones are susceptible to having control seized electronically by unauthorized operators. Drones have the capability of carrying a variety of weapons, including 12-gauge shotguns, tear gas, rubber bullet guns, bombs and missiles, but drones have significant limitations in identifying specific individuals and groups.

Unmanned aerial vehicles have the capability to watch individuals, groups and populations on a 24-hour basis, following and recording their movements for days and weeks in an unprecedented way, as well as the capability to monitor cell phone and text messaging of individuals, groups and populations, information states.

"Would we have any authority to police this? asked board member Jeremy Hall.

"The county would if it's a county ordinance," replied Sheriff Roger Mulch. "I haven't read it in its entirety but it says something about banning all drones that can carry shotguns, bullets, tasers or anything like that, I don't know what technology is going to do for law enforcement but drones are going to be a big part of it, and we don't want to ban ourselves from doing what we need to do to police."

The drone ordinance will be placed on the agenda for the April 22 full board meeting, it was announced.