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Palm Beach After Drones

PALM BEACH, Fla. —As the popularity of drones grows, Palm Beach police are working to keep them off the island in order to protect the privacy of residents.

Some have started to question if the town has legal jurisdiction over airspace.

There’s an ignorance going on of the technology and a fear going on of invasion of privacy,” Jonathan Rupprecht, an attorney specializing in drone law, said. “There’s an issue there because this just goes back to constitutional law. Who actually controls the airspace?”

Police are using an old town ordinance that restricts aircraft from taking off, landing or flying below 1,000 feet on the island.

Reef Rescue, a grassroots volunteer conservation group, uses drones to keep an eye on coral reefs and dredging projects. Police were called on them in January as they recorded a beach renourishment project.

Two cars and three police officers, they came over and told us to land it,” Reef Rescue representative Ed Tichenor said. “They were polite about it, but I had never heard of that ordinance before. I heard that it’s an ordinance from the 1980s meant for the paparazzi.”

Earlier in 2015, a police lieutenant proposed an ordinance specifically for drones, stating they could be used by thieves to case properties or invade privacy.

It’s only a draft, but the early version of the ordinance would allow for limited drone use requiring a permit from the town. A town committee will start ironing out the details and discussing the ordinance in November.

Under the current aircraft ordinance, first-time offenders can be fined $250, and they can be fined $500 for a second violation. Currently, Palm Beach police said that no one has been cited.

Palm Beach isn’t alone. States, cities, towns and even homeowner associations have been drafting and implementing ordinances to crack down on drones.

It’s an issue that’s going to have to go to the Supreme Court and have to be answered sometime shortly,” Rupprecht said.

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