Drone Bill Targeting ‘High-Tech Peeping Toms’ Moves Forward in Pa.

Posted by Betsy Lillian on June 30, 2016 No Comments

The Pennsylvania House has passed legislation that the bill’s sponsor – Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, Butler, Indiana – says brings criminal penalties for the misuse of “high-tech peeping toms,” a.k.a. unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

According to the congressman, H.B.1339 would amend Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code by adding a new section on the “unlawful use of unmanned aircraft” in order to make it illegal for a person to engage in surveillance while trespassing in a private place.

The state’s House Committee on Appropriations defines the “unlawful use of unmanned aircraft” offense as “intentionally or knowingly using an unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance of another person in a private place” (somewhere a person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy”).

Pyle says the same bill passed the House last session, but the Senate “failed to bring it up for consideration.”

“Whether we’re talking about someone ‘peeping’ in a bedroom window or spying on a neighbor’s pool party, every Pennsylvanian should have an expectation of privacy in their homes and on their private property, and invasive conduct like this should be prohibited,” says Pyle. “It’s up to us as lawmakers to ensure that the Crimes Code keeps up with today’s technology.”

A single offense under the new section created by the measure would be graded as a summary offense: a fine of up to $300 and/or up to 90 days in jail. Multiple offenses (or instances where there are multiple victims) would be graded as a third-degree misdemeanor: a fine of up to $2,500 and/or up to one year in jail.

“This legislation is similar to previous common-sense measures I have authored and passed into law in that the idea for it came from my constituents,” the congressman adds. “In the past, I received a rash of complaints from constituents about individuals who were surreptitiously and obviously trespassing on their property to ‘spy’ on them and their guests.

“Specifically, I received complaints where some folks were using unmanned radio-controlled helicopters equipped with high-definition video equipment to intrude on their neighbors’ privacy,” he says.

Pyle maintains that he examined the state’s criminal provisions for “trespassing” and “invasion of privacy” and discovered that neither statute fit the circumstances described above.

In a memorandum, he references two different YouTube videos, one of which is entitled “RC Helicopter Spy Cam Project – EASY” – what the congressman refers to as “how to build a spy helicopter on a shoestring budget.”

The measure includes exceptions for UAS operators such as law enforcement and first responders, as well as “persons engaged in aerial data collection in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations,” the House appropriations committee says.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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