NEFAC, Media Organizations Voice Concern Over N.H. Drone Legislation, Lack of First Amendment Protections

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |

Jan. 25 Letter

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently expressed concern about New Hampshire legislation that would criminalize certain uses of drones and punish First Amendment-protected activity.

House Bill 97 prohibits, among other things, the use of drones for commercial surveillance without the permission of those surveilled or the owners of the buildings being monitored.

The National Press Photographers Association wrote to Rep. Carol McGuire on Jan. 25 on behalf of several media organizations, including NEFAC. The groups expressed doubt that the bill’s news gathering exception would provide adequate protection of First Amendment rights.

“[W]e are greatly concerned that without a more prominent and specific reference to that exception, we believe the public and law enforcement officers may too easily assume such First Amendment protected activity as prohibited,” according to the letter.

New Hampshire law already protects many of the privacy interests HB 97 intends to address, the groups wrote. While the state’s tort law governs civil privacy issues, they explained, New Hampshire criminal law punishes invasive physical and electronic intrusions. These laws will apply as equally to drone photography as to other forms of First Amendment conduct. A new technology-specific statute is unnecessary.

“We believe the proposed bill poses a serious risk to innovative use of drones to gather and disseminate information and images on matters of public concern as well as the public’s right to receive news, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution.” the groups wrote.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Donations can be made here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.