The practice is known as “ag-gag,” and North Carolina has become a participant.
“I think that some of the drone regulations we see right now in North Carolina and other states as well are not in fact about drones or the technology at all,” Potter said. “They’re about attempts to shroud this industry in secrecy and hide factory farms.”
The N.C. American Civil Liberties Union has voiced concerns not only about the law’s limitation of individuals’ ability to use drones for art or journalism, but also about the vague language in the law regarding law enforcement’s ability to use drone surveillance.
Mike Meno, spokesman for the N.C. ACLU, said there are many privacy rights concerns in the language of the law.
“(The law allows) surveillance of any public or private event or place where the general public has been invited, which begs the question that if I have my neighborhood over for a barbecue, does that mean that law enforcement have the right to conduct surveillance on my barbecue?” he said.
Liz Woolery, a Ph.D. student in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said North Carolina and several other states have created extremely vague laws that curtail First Amendment rights but simultaneously ignore image gathering under other circumstances, like Google Street View.
“When a law has that kind of vague term trying to combat some big, broad idea like surveillance, but doesn’t define it or get into the nitty-gritty, that’s very worrisome,” Woolery said.
Potter also noted the dichotomy that the government sets up about different groups’ abilities to use drones.
“What we’re hearing is that people in power and government law enforcement should have unobstructed right to surveil and monitor us in all manners,” he said. “But when citizens try to use similar technology to hold industry and corporations accountable for their actions, that’s being made illegal.”