PA Adopting Drone Law on Preemption, ‘Peeping Tom’

A new drone law regarding privacy invasions and the prohibition of local drone regulations will soon take effect in Pennsylvania.

On Oct. 12, 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf, D-Pa., signed into law H.B.1346 – now Act 78 of 2018 – which is designed to protect the public by increasing the criminal penalties for using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to spy on or conduct surveillance of someone in a private place, according to the governor. A press release from Wolf said the bill is designed to combat “peeping tom” drones.

“Signing this bill protects the personal privacy of Pennsylvanians,” said Wolf. “With the rise in popularity of drones with video cameras, this is a commonsense step to prevent the use of drones to invade someone’s privacy. Drones should not be a tool to spy on someone in their yard or through their window.”

The text of the bill states that the law will take effect within 90 days, meaning Jan. 10.

According to the governor, the legislation makes using an unmanned aircraft to intentionally or knowingly conduct surveillance of another person in a private place or to place another person in reasonable fear of bodily injury a summary offense – i.e., a fine of up to $300. Further, using an unmanned aircraft to deliver, provide, transmit or furnish contraband to a person in a prison or in a mental hospital is a felony of the second degree.

The bill includes exceptions for law enforcement officials, first responders, utility companies and some government employees.

Importantly, the bill also “shall preempt and supersede any ordinance, resolution, rule or other enactment of a municipality regulating the ownership or operation of unmanned aircraft.”

“As of the effective date of this section,” the text of the bill continues, “a municipality shall not regulate the ownership or operation of unmanned aircraft unless expressly authorized by statute.”

According to Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice president of policy and legal affairs, Pennsylvania joins 17 other states in preempting local UAS laws, he explained in a recent Facebook post in “UAV Legal News & Discussion.”

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