Council Considering Law to Regulate UAVs, Establish Rules for Police Drones

By Kenneth Lipp

Councilman Jim Kenney has sponsored a bill that has been read before the Public Safety Committee of the Philadelphia City Council proposing the addition of a new chapter to the City Code, “to regulate the use of unmanned aircraft systems, and create penalties for improper use of said systems.”

The proposed ordinance would prohibit certain civilian and public agency uses for unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs or drones, and establish regulations under which the Philadelphia Police Department may employ the technology.

The bill forbids using a drone to conduct surveillance of a person or a person’s home without that person’s written consent, and bans the operation of UAVs above or near “gatherings.”

Police would be permitted to operate drones under the following conditions

  • To conduct surveillance that would not require a warrant if conducted by a manned aircraft
  • If the agency first obtains a search warrant authorizing the use of the unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system.
  • To facilitate the search for a missing person.
  • To facilitate operations of the Philadelphia Fire Department during a fire.
  • To photograph or video record public gatherings on public land.

Penalties for violating the new law could include up to 30 days imprisonment and a $1000 fine, as well as forfeiture of the aircraft.

Currently there are few regulations for amateur UAV pilots in Philadelphia to fly below 400 feet. Commercial operation of a drone requires a permit and license.

Here’s a pretty cool video of a drone hobbyist’s flight in Palumbo Park


About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

There is one comment

  1. Update on Craigslist Ad for Drone Pilots, and the State of UAVs in Philly | The Philly Declaration

    […] Philadelphia City Council is considering legislation to limit drone use in the city, but the proposed bill would not necessarily prevent any of the present start-ups from opening and growing their businesses in Philly as planned. Some aspects of the legislation are vague, especially as concerns the section on police department use of the technology. The regulations would constrain commercial operations essentially to the licit domain of the computer network penetration tester who can deploy her sophisticated tools on his own property, his website or network, or the property of someone who has given her explicit consent. […]


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