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Federal Drone Regulations Die Before Takeoff

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 18, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last month, we wrote about the government's mandatory registration of all civilian drones -- and the groaning that ensued. Now, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation penned a document announcing plans to solicit public comments and suggestions in a soft-power campaign to make sure all hobbyists register their drones so they can be traced.

Submissions for the public comment have already ended. But has any federal program regulating drones actually taken flight?

Traditional Rules Don't Apply

The chief counsel for the FAA, Reginald Govan, said that traditional rules and laws governing aircraft begin to breakdown when applied to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or "drones."

Govan explained at a Nov. 6 ABA National Security Law Conference that it was initially thought that traditional laws could simply be moved over and applied to unmanned vehicles. But it soon became clear that almost two years' worth of work was useless and that the agency would have to start fresh.

What About SCOTUS's Position?

Laura K. Donahue, Moderator and Law Professor at Georgetown University Law Center, described SCOTUS's current position on drone use as "utterly ill-suited." In light of the pressing need for legal governance, she lamented that statutes consistently lag in being able to answer key legal issues regarding drone use.

FAA Missed Congress's Deadline

Congress had originally mandated that regulations for registering all drones in the country be in placed by September 30, but the FAA missed that deadline and is still tripping over itself to figure out how to properly handle the situation.

Broad Implications

Agency regulations of UAVs will significantly expand the number of legal inquiries of drone use implications for First, Second, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. And these implications will begin hovering over our heads long before the FAA can finally decide how the registration program should look.

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