Town Restricts Drone Usage

By Andrew Wroblewski and Carl Corry

The Huntington Town Board unanimously approved a new law Tuesday restricting the recreational use of drones on town-owned and private property.

The law, sponsored by Councilman Mark Cuthbertson and co-sponsored by Councilwoman Tracey Edwards, bans using drones to take high-resolution photos or video, or use any types of sensors “where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy” without written prior approval of the property’s owner or manager.

The law also prohibits drone use on private property without prior consent and prohibits the drones within the border of any real property owned, used or leased by the town without the town board’s written consent.

Jason Starr, interim director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Suffolk County Chapter, said he found requiring someone to have a permit to take pictures in the public space “problematic.”

“It is indeed a Constitutional right,” he added.

Starr said the law could more clearly state that people have a right to take photographs in public spaces. “We’ll have to see how the town will enforce the provision that requires prior permitting.”

However, Cuthbertson said he did not believe “drone observation” constitutes an exercise of First Amendment rights.

“If someone is just walking around on the beach taking photographs of people, I think it could be an invasion of privacy. If a drone is flying above someone’s property, it’s not like Google Earth. These things can go right down to the ground,” he said.

He said they can also crash, as seen in September at the 2015 U.S. Open, posing a safety hazard

Violators of the new law can be fined up to $1,000 or face up to 15 days in prison.

Cuthbertson added: “This legislation is cutting edge. This is going to be an evolving area of the law.”