Bill would require permission to take someone's picture from a drone in Washington state

Photo of DJI Phantom by Giovanni.

Photo of DJI Phantom by Giovanni.

Lawmakers in the state of Washington are afraid of the potential for drones to invade privacy, and have drafted legislation that would make it illegal to collect data about a person without permission.

Additionally, every personal drone would have to be clearly marked to indicate its owner.

If House Bill 2178 becomes law, drone operators and hobbyists would have to get permission from people who are photographed on private property. The bill does not limit unmanned aircraft operators from taking photos of anyone who is standing on public land, but would not allow operators to photograph private property without permission, even if the drone is flying above public land at the time.

According to the bill, privacy "has been violated when the image could not have been captured from outside the boundaries of the property on which the person is located, from an ordinary vantage point, and without the assistance of the unmanned aircraft."

The bill makes no rules against manned aircraft, such as manned news and police helicopters, which might have similar capabilities as drones.

The bill also requires that all unmanned aircraft are "clearly and conspicuously labeled with the name and contact information of the aircraft's owner and operator." Anyone in violation would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Individuals whose reasonable expectation of privacy has been violated by a drone may collect damages of up to $5,000, not including attorney's fees, according to the bill.

Originally, HB 2178 contained an emergency clause which would turn the bill into law immediately after being signed by Washington's governor. The most recent version contains no such clause.

Emergency clauses were once fairly common, but popularity has waned in recent years. The Washington Policy Center, a conservative think thank which criticized such legislation, reported emergency were becoming more rare.

The Federal Aviation Administration left the door open for states to create their own drone-related privacy laws when it published privacy requirements for drone test sites in 2013. The FAA is requiring test sites to meet with the public on an annual basis on privacy concerns, but essentially is taking a "hands-off" approach when it comes to privacy and focusing on safety requirements and aircraft integration.