Indiana Senate panel considers adding drone-related crimes

Some Indiana lawmakers concerned that operators with nefarious intentions could turn peeping drones into peeping Toms are pushing to criminalize using the high-tech flying gadgets for voyeurism.

Republican Sen. Eric Koch's bill creates regulations that in part target operators who could use the technology to invade people's privacy or capture images of them in compromising positions, a new misdemeanor proposed in the measure dubbed "remote aerial voyeurism."

"All 50 states are working through this and trying to balance the competing interests here," said Koch, who has been involved with drone legislation in Indiana for years. "We're trying to get out in front of it and write some rules of the road that all lawful persons can agree to abide by, and avoid having to go back and backfill later on."

Many states have laws defining appropriate drone uses and some, including Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, have regulated the new technology to specifically address voyeurism or "peeping Tom" activities.

An Indiana Senate panel held the bill to refine its language after discussing it Tuesday. The proposed measure would also bar using a drone to interfere with public safety officials or to harass someone and set penalties for sex offenders who use them to target people they aren't supposed to contact. The state measure would not pre-empt local ordinances on drones.

In its current version, the bill criminalizes invading a person's "reasonable expectation of privacy," which prompted some debate on existing peeping tom law from committee members.

"If a person's in a hot tub, they've got an expectation of privacy defense, but I can see them from my second level," Sen. Mike Young said, using a hypothetical situation. "So, whether I can see them from my bedroom window or another window or a UAV — have I invaded the expectation of privacy?"

Lawmakers agreed to reassess Koch's wording and to potentially include Indiana's peep definition — "any looking of a clandestine, surreptitious, prying or secretive nature" — to apply to drones.

Chad Budreau of the Academy of Model Aeronautics testified he believed that existing tort law could be an avenue for regulation without requiring new laws for each new technology, but in an interview with The Associated Press, Koch said that approach would rely on the civil tort law system as a "deterrent" rather than using the criminal system and creating specific misuses.

He said the proposed regulations aren't intended to stifle lawful commerce or use of drones, but rather, are an attempt to design something "that's right for Indiana."

"The sooner we can provide reasonable regulation, particularly protecting zones of privacy, protecting our public safety officials, preventing sexual predators from using them for their own ends — it's a positive thing," Koch said.

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