A Suffolk County legislator has introduced a bill to ban drones outfitted with cameras from flying over county buildings.
Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), a former Suffolk County police officer, said he is concerned about the potential for drones to fly over public buildings such as courts and police precincts to take pictures that could be used for illegal purposes.
"I guess it's my law enforcement background, but I'm looking to outlaw drones from flying over public buildings and recording their operations and what goes on there," Muratore said.
Joining Muratore as a co-sponsor is Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who said drones have the potential to hover outside upper-floor office windows, spy on meetings and if technology permits, even read documents.
"No one should be looking through your window when you're on the 12th floor of the Dennison building," Spencer said. "A policy to bar that kind of activity is not impinging on anybody's rights and is a good first step."
Under Muratore's proposal, the only legal way to fly drones over county buildings and take pictures would be to secure permission from the department head who manages the building.
Muratore acknowledged the measure may be hard to enforce, but said if a drone were confiscated, the county would have the ability to prosecute. If approved, the law would classify an infraction as a criminal violation with fines of $250 to $500.
Legislative Counsel George Nolan said Muratore's bill is not unlike several other pieces of proposed state legislation to regulate drones. State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) has a bill that would bar the use of drones to aid in hunting wildlife.
State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) has a bill to bar drones or other unmanned aircraft from conducting surveillance without a warrant at homes, churches or other locations where a person has the expectation of privacy.
Presiding Office DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said that while the issue has not yet come before the majority Democratic caucus, drones have caused increasing concern among the public.
Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the GOP caucus head, has not yet taken a position but worried the county may not have power to rein in drones.
Paul Sabatino, former legislative counsel, said Muratore is taking a limited approach but warned the county may be pre-empted by the Federal Aviation Agency, which already has promulgated proposed drone rules.
"Drones can be launched from anywhere so that's interstate commerce and the FAA regulates what happens in the air, so I don't see how the county could have any jurisdiction over it," Sabatino said.