Connecticut lawmakers will hold hearings today about proposed legislation that would impose twenty-year prison sentences on people who commit crimes with drones.
The bill, which comes up for Judiciary Committee review today in Hartford, also requires Connecticut's state department of transportation to develop unmanned aircraft regulations. Individuals that use drones equipped with a deadly weapon could face up to 20 years in prison, and those who commit lesser crimes up to ten.
Under the legislation, police could utilize drones, but only for law enforcement use. They'd be required to get warrants except in the case of an emergency.
Connecticut's bill comes days after police spotted a drone hovering over the scene of a fatal car crash in Hartford. Police reported the drone buzzed above the scene of the crash while bodies were still in the car. Though police interviewed the man who operated the drone -- a freelance journalist -- no arrests were made.
The technology website Singularity Hub said that the FAA was conducting an independent review of the case, probing whether the drone might have caused the accident or risked others by flying in a "careless or reckless manner."
According to the Hartford police's interpretation of FAA rules, “The presence of a drone at a crime scene for journalistic purposes is in violation of FAA regulations.”
The FAA currently requires that drones be approved, that operators have pilot licenses, and that the flights get specific FAA approval. But in practice, such blanket bans have been hard to enforce.
Quoting an FAA spokesman, Singularity Hub said the flight probably wasn't pre-approved.
It "raises questions about how many other desperate freelance journalists may be operating drones to get a leg-up on local news gathering," the site's Cameron Scott wrote. "But the FAA generally enforces its ban on commercial drone flights with warnings, and saves investigations for safety issues."
"Brendan Schulman, a New York attorney who specializes in drone laws, said there is no federal regulation concerning the operation of drones for commercial use," the Hartford Courant wrote Feb. 18. "The FAA's prohibition of commercial drones is based on a policy statement, not an official federal regulation."
The man questioned after the accident filed suit against the Hartford police, arguing that they violated his civil rights when they instructed him to stop flying the drone and detained him. A report on the man filing suit can be reviewed at this link (audio starts automatically).
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