Ohio drones in the news

The Columbus Dispatch reports that the defense bill passed last week by the U.S. House of Representatives contained provisions that would facilitate Ohio's plans to "become a hub for unmanned aerial vehicles." According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Indiana Governor Mike Pence created the joint Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center (UASC) in 2013 by joining together several existing facilities across the two states in order to accomplish research goals related to unmanned aircraft, or drones.

Per the Dispatch, the provisions in the defense bill will aid in the work of the UASC by clarifying how special-use airspace, such as that above Indiana's Camp Atterbury, can be used. This measure is a small part of a large defense bill which is expected to pass in the Senate this week.

On a smaller scale, drones are making local headlines, as the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department will be purchasing a small Phantom 2 drone to aid in police work. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, sheriff's spokesperson Mike Robison has stated that the drone will only be used "to take aerial photos of crime scenes and traffic accidents," and that it would not fly above 400 feet or in heavily populated areas. The Sheriff's Department would have to obtain a waiver from the FAA if it were to exceed this altitude limitation or fly in more populated spaces. According to the article, County Commissioners Todd Portune and Greg Hartmann support the decision to acquire a drone, which would cost about $800, as long as it is used properly.

Privacy rights advocates have expressed concerns about drones and whether police will overstep boundaries in using them. The article quotes Bill Gallagher, a Cincinnati attorney and past president of the Greater Cincinnati Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, who says that the use of drones is a "slippery slope" and that he fears that "the use is going to be expanded the same way every other tool they’ve asked for has been expanded." Gallagher draws parallels with the debate over the National Security Agency collecting emails without warrants as a cautionary statement about law enforcement and the potential abuse of technology. County officials state that they will monitor the use of the drone to ensure that the department does not expand its operation without discussion.

Ohio does not currently have any laws regulating the use of drones. Ohio House Bill 207 was introduced in June 2013 to address some of these issues. The bill was amended in committee in May 2014, but no further action has been taken at this point.