All eyes will be on the Gold Dome in the next few weeks to see how the state plans to balance its burgeoning aviation, technology, agriculture and film industry interest in unmanned aircraft against protecting privacy, safety, and critical infrastructure within the state.

The House Drone Use Study Committee wrapped the final of four meetings this past Monday and Chairman Kevin Tanner outlined the main points expected in the Study Committee Recommendations Report to be released in early  December. Central themes running throughout the Study Committee meetings and highlighted again this week were education and economic development.  Chairman Tanner and other committee members stressed the need to encourage, not chill, Georgia’s economic growth in the unmanned aircraft and technology industries.

Also, the Study Committee recognized that it’s not the operators abiding the existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and safety regulations that cause alarm, but rather novices unfamiliar with current rules or those who never intended to follow them in the first place.  Educating consumers and operators would go a long way to address this concern.
When it comes to privacy and law enforcement, the Study Committee appears poised to follow in the footsteps of other states such as Texas and Florida in limiting how and where drones may be operated and the images that may be captured during flights. State level drone and operator registration, such as enacted by North Carolina, is off the table at this time.  Georgia will monitor how the FAA addresses the issue in the next months before taking any additional steps.
Among the recommendations Chairman Tanner listed:
* Creation of a commission on aerospace or unmanned systems (aerial, ground, and water) that would focus on growing the industry and opportunities within the state.
* Education programs for the general public as well as encouraging technology, aviation, and robotics education of students from elementary school through post-secondary study programs.
* Require data retention policies for the storage and destruction of images and information collected by state and local law enforcement entities.
* Privacy, looking at what and were images may be captured and how those images may be used.
* Prohibit weaponized drones, either by law enforcement or private citizens.
* Protecting against unsafe operations around emergencies, critical infrastructure, and public gatherings.
The Study Committee’s final report is expected to be released in early December with legislation (if any) to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Elizabeth Wharton is an attorney with Hall Booth Smith, P.C.


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