Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it illegal for police to monitor people with unmanned aircraft without due process.
Police, hobbyists, filmmakers and regulators told lawmakers Tuesday that the state should protect people’s privacy. But they urged lawmakers not to curtail the many uses for unmanned aircraft beyond police surveillance, including commercial photography, search and rescue operations, resource management and recreational use.
Large drones like the ones the U.S. military and border patrol uses aren’t the only style of unmanned craft that would be regulated. Police departments and the public can buy small remote-controlled helicopters and little airplanes made of Styrofoam for just a few hundred dollars.
AJ White, a cameraman who uses a multirotor helicopter in his work with Kailua-based Blue River Productions, said mounting cameras on radio-controlled aircraft is already commonplace in television and film.
"Drones automatically imply futuristic spying," he said. "But literally it’s just me 50 feet away with a remote control."
A version of the bill, Senate Bill 2608 SD1, before the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor would restrict unmanned aircraft use to law enforcement, people testified. Committee Chairman Clayton Hee, a Democrat representing Waialua, Wahiawa and Koolauloa, said he would amend the bill to make room for other uses, in line with the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations.
Along the way lawmakers heard from an array of people who outlined the many uses for unmanned craft, which are sure to continue vexing regulators in Hawaii, as they have elsewhere.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources wants to be able to use the craft to monitor coral reefs and wildfires safely and cheaply. Groups representing farmers and ranchers said they want to use unmanned aircraft to monitor fence lines, watch for wildlife, assess storm damage and keep track of cattle.
One hobbyist, Billy Van Osool, said native Hawaiian groups have asked him how to use the craft to help them survey their land.
"For those that are using them responsibly, that are using them with safety in mind, we would like to continue with the use of drones," he told lawmakers.