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Drones a privacy issue for Hudson

Hudson resident Mike Sanders said a drone has made several appearances at his house, which he feels is an invasion of privacy. File photo

Rebecca Mariscal

Forum News Service

HUDSON, Wis. — Mike Sanders and his friends were enjoying dinner on his deck when they heard a buzzing noise. They looked to find a drone hovering over his property.

“It’s a loud buzzing noise so it’s quite distracting,” Sanders said.

This drone had made several appearances at his house, watching Sanders work on his vehicle and looking through the back window.

With the drone, like most, outfitted with a camera, Sanders found the drone intrusive on his private property.

“To me it was an invasion of privacy, and kind of borderline harassment,” he said.

He was able to track the drone back to its owner, but he said a police officer told him he couldn’t do much, since the city does not have an ordinance against it.

Concerned, he reached out to his district council member Tom McCormick.

“It’d be nice to see something where the local police could do something about it,” Sanders said. “It’s enough to make them think twice.”

At the Aug. 21 council meeting, McCormick asked the council to consider adopting an ordinance regulating drone use.

The state of Wisconsin statute 942.10 already regulates the use of drones in locations where an individual has “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” An offense is a misdemeanor. Police Chief Marty Jensen said at the meeting that enforcing a state statute often requires going through the district attorney’s office.

“I don’t think there’s been any action taken under that statute in the Hudson area,” McCormick said.

A city ordinance would look similar to the state statute, but would be easier for local police to enforce.

“It’s applicable and the police department can enforce it. So I think that it’s a better thing to have,” McCormick said.

An ordinance would deal solely with privacy concerns, which McCormick said is the main issue. For him, McCormick said drones crossing into private property is trespassing, just like it would be if a person walked onto private property with a camera.

“What’s the difference between that and your neighbor using a drone to come into your background and take photographs,” McCormick said. “Seems to me to be the same.”

Sanders said he believes the vast majority of drone users aren’t using them improperly, but an ordinance would address the ones that are.

“It’s for the 1 percent,” he said.

FAA, local regulation

While the Federal Aviation Administration regulates the operation of drones to an extent, legal commentary from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities states the FAA has left local governments free to enact laws that “traditionally relate to local police power.”

“They’re seceding authority to local authorities to oversee it,” McCormick said.

With this ordinance, Hudson would not be the first municipality to adopt drone regulation. In Wisconsin Green Bay, Elkhart Lake, DeForest, Windsor and Chetek have made such ordinances, according the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

“There’s ordinances out there that we can use as a basis for our Hudson ordinances,” McCormick said.

A city ordinance would give citizens an avenue to follow if they are having an issue with a drone, something both McCormick and Sanders said is important. McCormick said he wouldn’t want to see people try to take matters into their own hands.

“People might want to resort to self-help and try to disable or shoot down a drone and that would not be probably a very good thing to do,” McCormick said.

Since bringing the issue to the council in August, both McCormick and Sanders have heard that another person has had a similar issue.

The ordinance is currently being considered by public safety, and will be brought back to the common council in December.

Though Sanders’ issue with the drone has stopped, he still wants to see the ordinance move forward for others who may face privacy concerns, and to be sure he doesn’t have any more uninvited dinner guests.

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