New NC laws on drones, coal ash and sales taxes take effect Oct. 1


By Benjamin Brown

RALEIGH There’s a difference between drones and the remote-controlled airplanes hobbyists enjoy. So notes a new law effective Wednesday that firms up the definition of “unmanned aircraft,” colloquially known as drones, for statewide regulation.

The law, which was written into the state’s budget, goes into effect amid growing conversations about privacy and surveillance given the potential with drones in aerial research and law enforcement.

Under the new law, drones cannot be used for surveillance of persons or dwellings without consent of the person or owner of the dwelling. That prohibition goes for individuals, organizations and state government agencies alike.

Drones are further banned from photographing anyone for the purposes of publishing or publicly disseminating the images without the subject’s permission, the new law says. Exempt, however, are news agencies gathering photos of newsworthy events “or places to which the general public is invited.”

There are law enforcement exceptions as well. Police can use drones for anti-terrorism and plain-view surveillance or to search for a missing person, suspect or escapee or if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a life or property is in danger.

The new law says anyone who experiences illegitimate surveillance by drone has a case against the offending party and can recover, in lieu of actual damages, $5,000 for each photo and video taken. Evidence gathered in violation of the new law won’t be admissible in court, “except when obtained or collected under the objectively reasonable, good-faith belief that the actions were lawful.”