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Q: What does the law say about UAVs?

By Staff | Feb 14, 2016

KRISTINE TIDGREN outlines on Feb. 3 the potential legal issues awaiting farmers, ag businesses and hobbyists who fly unmanned aerial vehicles for fun or profit, now that the FAA is issuing flying certificate exemptions for commercial ag and hobby use. She spoke Feb. 3 during the 2016 Iowa Power Farming Show.



DES MOINES – As the Federal Aviation Administration gradually moves toward issuing regulations that govern the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial uses, others are studying a plethora of legal questions they expect to arise.

And in most cases, said Kristine Tidgren, a staff attorney with the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation, do not know all the legal ramifications that are likely to develop.

Tidgren was updating UAV operators, both for hobby and profit, during a presentation Feb. 4 at the Iowa Power Farming Show in Des Moines.

She said people are asking if a UAV flies erringly over their property, if that constitutes trespass or privacy invasions, even at 400 feet.

Can they be legally shot down if they cross private property lines?

What if they are spooking cattle?

Can third parties take pictures of a farmer’s land without landowners’ permission to initiate litigation or regulatory efforts?

What if the pictures include children in the backyard, or a woman sunbathing?

Can a landlord fly over a tenant’s crops to assure land management practices are being followed in the contract?

Can hunters use them to find deer, or use them to drive deer to a certain area?

“We just don’t know right now,” Tidgren said.

Many of these legal issues may have to be tried in court to settle legal issues.

Precision ag

One of the most promising uses for UAVs, Tidgren said, is to collect data that can be used to improve agricultural practices.

A variety of data can be collected by these fly-overs. Combines with other field data collected during planting, fertilizing and harvest activities raises questions with no clear answers right now, she said.

“Who owns the data? Who gets to control it? How will it be used?” she asked, offering examples.

Current laws are insufficient, she said, with no legal framework in place.

She said the best protections now are through contractual agreements..

“Get all that in the language of the contract,” Tidgren said. “And check the contracts’ clauses.”

There are some limited protections in place – more like professional guidelines for use – for collected data.

Big data

In November 2014, a dozen private and commercial ag corporations agreed to how farm data can be used and kept private and secure.

A year later, Nov. 30, 2015, 35 corporations signed the privacy and security principles.

Tidgren indicated that – at least at the outset – these principles will be applied to information collected by drones.

A key part of this agreement is that farmers own the data on their fields, but they have the responsibility to ensure they share it only with agriculture technology providers.

Farmers’ primary question about data usage is if the government access the data for regulatory purposes.

If the government does, she said, “will the data be released through Freedom of Information requests?”

“Or can the data be sold by the collector? Or be used as aggregate or farm-specific analyses?

“Can it be used for commodity speculation?”

Tidgren said the 2015 Big Data Principles require:

A). ATPs to collect no data without a farmer’s consent.

B). ATPs should disclose how they plan to use data, if it will be shared with third parties, and honor a farmer’s right to opt out of data collection.

C). ATPs should provide removal, secure destruction and return original farm data if requested by a farmers, or after a prearranged timeframe.

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