Business Law Letter: Oklahoma Unmanned Aerial Surveillance Act  Effective November 1, 2016

11.01.16

Oklahoma is seeking to join the ranks of other states that have passed or have legislation pending regarding Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones. The Oklahoma Unmanned Aerial Surveillance Act (the “Act”) [1], House Bill 2337, was introduced on February 1, 2016 by Rep. Paul Wesselhoft and Sen. Rob Standridge, of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Oklahoma Senate, respectively, and co-authored by Rep. Mike Ritze of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

The Act is the State’s first real attempt to catch up to an industry that has burgeoned from a niche industry to a multi-billion dollar market. With this ambitious projection, venture capitalists, startup companies, private equity firms, and existing aeronautical giants are entering a market that is largely unregulated and is raising a wide variety of constitutional concerns.

Oklahoma’s Act addresses primarily the use of UASs by state actors in the context of both law enforcement and civil operations. While laudable, the Act attempts to cover too many facets of UAV law and leaves glaring holes in its wake. This Act imposes misdemeanor charges for violators, with jail terms not to exceed six months and a fine of not less than $250 and not more than $2,500 per violation. Further, the Act gives private individuals or organizations a cause of action for declaratory and injunctive relief with reasonable attorney fees and costs to the prevailing party. However, the Act does not limit private actions exclusively to declaratory judgments or injunctions. This leaves the door wide open for a host of torts and property actions against both state law enforcement officers and officials for the use of drones that may not comply with the Act’s numerous requirements. 

As most individuals have likely seen in various news segments, concerns over privacy have come to the forefront of the national conversation surrounding government surveillance and information gathering. The Act addresses a particularly troubling issue related to a state’s use of data collected by and through its usage of drones.

Overall, the legislature is trying to get into lock-step with the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations, but even the FAA is woefully behind on addressing this industry. Oklahomans can anticipate additional laws as industry-makers are beginning to realize the potential for a myriad of uses that can cut costs of labor and increase efficiency.  The Act may be a step in the right direction in terms of protecting privacy rights, but ultimately, it unnecessarily imposes tremendous personal liability upon our police officers while creating a regulatory framework that will ultimately prove both duplicative of and contradictory to the body of constitutional law that will soon emerge from the courts.

©2016 Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson, LLP.  The Business Law Letter is a newsletter providing items of interest in various areas pertaining to business organizations.  While the Letter may alert you to potential problems or changes in the law, legal advice concerning specific problems can only be given by an attorney after careful consideration of the facts unique to a given situation.  Inquiries concerning the Letter or its contents should be directed to its editors, H. Wayne Cooper, Lawrence T. Chambers, Jr., William F. Riggs, David J. Looby or D. Benham Kirk.

[1] HB 2337 was passed by the House of Representatives and is currently in the Senate committee of Public Safety.

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Rebecca D. Bullard

Rebecca D. Bullard

Rebecca represents clients primarily in labor and employment
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