New Hampshire bill would massively curtail aerial photography


posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 6:21 PM EDT


With the recent widespread coverage of the use of drones both at home and abroad, a number of states have enacted legislation to restrict their use. A new bill up before the New Hampshire House of Representatives would not only strictly control how drones are used, but might end up rendering aerial photography all but illegal in the state.

An early draft of the bill proposed by Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare) was first spotted by AGBeat. House bill 619-FN, as it was written, was described as “prohibiting images of a person’s residence to be taken from the air.” Specifically the bill said:

“A person is guilty of a class A misdemeanor if such person knowingly creates or assists in creating an image of the exterior of any residential dwelling in this state where such image is created by or with the assistance of a satellite, drone, or any device that is not supported by the ground. This prohibition shall not apply where the image does not reveal forms identifiable as human beings or man-made objects. In this paragraph, “dwelling” means any building, structure, or portion thereof which is occupied as, or designed or intended for occupancy as, a residence by one or more individuals.”

Again, the language wasn’t clear, but in addition to stopping people from photographing using quadrocopters and the like, it might even have prevented aerial photography from airplanes and helicopters in New Hampshire. And there’s no mention of what it might mean for aerial imagery used for mapping services like Google Maps.

While the state bill seems to ban almost all aerial photography, it also expressly allowed for it if used by law-enforcement, specifically “Paragraphs I [and], II and IV-a shall not be construed to impair or limit any otherwise lawful activities of law enforcement personnel."

At first reading, it’s very easy to interpret this as letting the government do what the people are banned from, which is how it’s been widely reported. But since the bill has attracted attention (and controversy) recently, it's already been rewritten.

According to reporting by the New Hampshire Sentinel Source, the earlier text of the bill drew widespread ridicule, and it has since been altered to allow aerial photography under very specific circumstances, and curtail how law enforcement could use it.

Their article indicates that the bill would totally ban any drone with weaponry, even to hunt game, saying “no government or person shall own or use a drone that is equipped with a bullet, laser-ray or ... any kind of lethal or non-lethal weapon.” And while law enforcement would be allowed to use drones for surveillance purposes, that would only be allowed after a warrant is obtained, and any information not directly related to the warrant would have to be destroyed within 24 hours.

There’s also an exemption for private use with “prior, written consent of each affected individual and each owner or possessor of affected buildings or structures.”

It’s still an immensely restrictive bill for aerial photographers in New Hampshire, and one that could make their art form all but impossible. If passed, it also might set an important precedent for other states seeking to restrict aerial photography.

It’s also unusual that it would ban aerial photographs of a person’s house, whereas anything taken in public view from the street is generally considered allowable. Even so, this state bill is just that: a nascent piece of legislation in a tiny state that's only now being presented to the New Hampshire House of Representatives. It would likely have a long battle before it would become law and there's no telling how it might influence laws in other states or effect federal law regarding aerial photography.