Rules for Drone Use in New Jersey

By Candace Kelley

’Tis the season to give the gift of drones. These unmanned vehicles are gaining in popularity. Steven Cohen works with students at Bergen Community College researching the technology of drones.

“An ophthalmologist using a laser system is using autonomous systems to make those cuts,” Cohen said.

Commercial drones can be purchased for anywhere from $60 to $1,200. Anyone can buy one, but what are they doing with them? And what does it mean for your right to privacy, if, for example, someone flies their drone over your house with a high definition camera attached?

In New Jersey, there is not much legal precedent for guidance. According to the ACLU, “At least 13 states have enacted laws to regulate use of drones over the past two years, but not in New Jersey. In January, Gov. Christie pocket-vetoed sensible bipartisan legislation passed near-unanimously through the Legislature to put basic checks and balances in place for government use of drones.”

For now, you can fly above someone’s home if no one is in harm’s way. But earlier this year, a New Jersey man in Cape May County took the law into his own hands — with a shotgun — taking down a drone flying over his home. He was arrested for unlawful gun possession.

But Cohen says that when it comes to spying on someone else, the drones aren’t a very covert way of spying and that he’d be more concerned about people getting information from social media than drones.

“They are noisy. It would be like sending a remote hive of bees to your neighbor’s window is what we are talking about,” Cohen said.

The drone behind me has a life of eight to 10 minutes and can travel up to to three-quarters of a mile before it’s out of the line of site.

If you take to the air with your drone, the FAA wants you to know about their regulations for hobbyists who fly drones. You are not allowed to fly near manned aircraft, fly beyond your line of sight, go against community safety guidelines and you are not allowed to get payment for commercial purposes.

“The technology is way ahead of the regulation here,” said Cohen.

But when regulation catches up, the ACLU says, “Once the FAA permits expanded use of drones, we expect New Jersey law enforcement agencies to begin using drones for surveillance.”

So if your holiday shopping includes buying a drone, know your limits. And as the skies fill up with these buzzing vehicles, the ACLU says New Jersey needs to fly above it all and come up with some laws that will prevent invasion of privacy nightmares.