Tahlequah Daily Press

October 7, 2013

Locals send drones flying

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — While the use of military drones has increased during the past decade, there is a growing inclination among domestic entities to find uses for drones in U.S. airspace.

Such temptations prompted the introduction of a bill by Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, to limit the use of drones by law enforcement.

The drones at issue are not the armed Predator UAVs used by the military over battle space. Drones flown locally are not much larger than the radio controlled planes often flown by children.

“I own a couple of them,” said Tom Barnard of Barnard Bail Bonds. “I thought I might do some commercial photography. In my business I do some bounty hunting, so I also thought they might help with surveillance of bail jumpers.”

Barnard said he currently is not operating his drones.

“I could fly them from my iPhone, and really they were amazing,” he said. “But the problem was they just weren’t stable enough to take the photographs I was needing.”

Kris Gourd claims success in his efforts to take pictures with drones.

“I use them for in-flight videos, aerial crowd shots and I post them on Facebook,” Gourd said. “I have some aerials of the ice skating rink, downtown Tahlequah and some gorgeous shots of all of Tahlequah. I have even flown a drone around the Seminary Hall clock tower.”

Wesselhoft cites privacy concerns as the reason he introduced his bill. House Bill 1556 would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to use a drone for surveillance, unless in an emergency situation. Mounting weapons on drones would be forbidden.

“As the technology improves, the drones are perfected and they get less expensive, there are going to be some privacy issues,” Barnard said.

Gourd said he respects people’s privacy to the extent the law demands, and perhaps a bit further.

“The photos are often taken from 120 to 140 feet,” he said. “The resolution isn’t good enough to show faces. People might be recognized by what they are wearing. If I take a picture of someone standing in a group of 40 people, I don’t see how that is an invasion of privacy. Plus, there is no expectation of privacy in a public place. That doesn’t mean I fly right next to people on the street and take their pictures. That would just be rude.”

Prices for drones can vary from several hundred dollars to $35,000 on a craft full of features. Common drone configurations are quadcopters and octacopters. They can be operated from tablet computers or smart phones, but are limited to Wi-Fi range. Radio operated drones can fly up to 1,500 feet from the operator.

After he introduced it, HB 1556 was pulled from consideration by Wesselhoft at the request of Gov. Mary Fallin. Oklahoma is under consideration for one of six drone test ranges, and the governor expressed concern that the bill might negatively affect Oklahoma’s chances for selection.

Wesselhoft plans to reintroduce the bill in 2014 after the drone testing ranges are selected.