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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Arkansas eyes bill to keep drones out of the hands of Level 3 and 4 sex offenders

Proposed legislation in Arkansas that would legally ban certain registered sex offenders from owning or operating a drone took another step toward passage this week, when the Senate Committee on Judiciary approved the bill in a five to one vote.

Arkansas House Bill 1125 would prohibit anyone registered as Level 3 or Level 4 sex offender from owning or using a drone for personal reasons. People convicted of such crimes in the state are listed in public records assessing their risk of recidivism using a four-category scale, with three and four reserved for the most potentially dangerous.

The draft legislation does not cover individuals in the lower two sets, and makes an exception in the last two for unmanned aerial vehicle operation in the line of work.

The bill was co-sponsored by Republican Representative Brian Evans after two of his constituents complained to him about a drone repeatedly hovering over their backyard, and discovering after it eventually crashed it belonged to a Level 3 sex offender.

Although laws already on state books criminalize acts of voyeurism, Evans argues additional prohibitions must be made specifically to keep drones from being used by convicted predators to spy on people.

“What if he was trying [to] figure out when Mom and Dad are not home?” Evans asked legislators during the Senate committee debate. “What if he was trying to figure out how many teenage girls and young boys are out in [the] backyard playing when Mom and Dad are gone?”

Given the large majority that passed the bill in the Arkansas House, and the lopsided approval by the Senate committee, it seems likely the state will soon have a formal legal ban on most convicted sex offenders owning or using drones.

Despite that, however, some questions continued to be raised about the utility of an additional law just for UAVs.

Some concern was aired that current wording would continue banning all people ever registered as sex offenders, even those who’d been removed from lists by demonstrating non-predatory behavior over long periods.

Democratic Senate committee member Clarke Tucker worried the bill represented unnecessary overlap with the law criminalizing voyeurism, and risked preventing registered sex offenders who’d reformed from using drones in the entire array of legitimate, legal ways most people do.

“My thought would be to amend the law that criminalizes voyeurism so we’re criminalizing the behavior that we want to prevent, spying on people without their knowledge or consent,” Tucker said. “Then we’re not criminalizing behavior that we really don’t care about.”

As now written, however, the law wouldn’t necessarily keep all drones out of the hands of convicted predators. One section notes the prohibition applies to UAVs with “the ability to photographically or electronically record,” apparently leaving craft without cameras up for grabs.

Advance of the Arkansas bill coincided with the re-introduction of a US Senate proposal initially floated out last year looking to specifically prohibit drones being used in a number of activities already criminalized by standing laws – such as dropping bombs, aiding drug or human trafficking, or harassing police – which similarly provoked reservations about unnecessary legislative overlap.

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