Concerns raised about drone restrictions for newsrooms

In the News Legal & Legislative Issues

Multiple layers of regulations could affect the ability of newsrooms to use drones for news gathering, according to a report presented to the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Wisconsin State Journal photojournalist Michel King spoke to the council Oct. 26 saying that some state and local governmental agencies are placing restrictions on airspace beyond the FAA rules applied by the federal government, creating what could become a patchwork of regulations for commercial drone operators to navigate.

King cited the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin DNR as examples of agencies that have such rules in place. He said the UW policy requires a 30 day approval process, making coverage of breaking news impossible. The DNR has a no-fly policy that applies to state parks.

King also brought attention to law enforcement’s use of air traffic restrictions at the scenes of news events. Law enforcement and public safety agencies are able to request from the FAA temporary no-fly zones for safety reasons. King said agencies could abuse this tool to restrict a newsroom’s use of drones at the scene of a news event.

King is supportive of the FAA rules, but suggested to the council that state and local rules on drones be challenged in court.

The WBA intends to discuss legal or legislative remedies to these problems. Stations can help by sharing examples of situations that illustrate these problems and any other comments or observations that could help. Contact Kyle Geissler at

Lawmakers consider special rules for police body cameras

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would regulate the use of policy body cameras and the rules for retaining and releasing video shot with the cameras.

The bill requires law enforcement agencies to retain videos for at least 120 days and sets up rules aimed at protecting the privacy of witnesses and victims that might appear in the video when they’re in a location where they would have the expectation of privacy. Any victim or witness in the video would have to give the agency permission to release the video.

FOIC President Bill Lueders testified against the bill suggesting that the balancing test that is currently used to determine whether records should be released works. The WBA testified in support of statewide standards for body camera policies while expressing concern about the aspects of the bill that would make it harder to get access to body camera video.

A Senate hearing is expected to be scheduled soon.

The WBA has polled members about this issue and heard concerns about the bill, in part, questioning why body camera video should be treated differently than other records and raising concerns about getting access. If you have comments to make on this proposal or examples to share about how this law would affect you, please contact Kyle Geissler at

State Supreme Court case could tighten open records law

A case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court could effect on how open records laws are applied. In the case of Madison Teachers v. WERC, the teachers union was denied the names of employees who had already voted in an ongoing recertification election. A portion of the case deals with whether a records custodian can take into account the identity and potential motives of the requester when determining whether to grant the records request.  Custodians are currently not allowed to take the requesters’ identify into consideration.

The WBA is working with the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the FOIC, and other advocates of open government to provide the court with a statement expressing concern about the aspects of the case relating to open records law.

Bill would require recordings of closed meetings

A bill being introduced in the state legislature in November would require government bodies that go into closed session to make an audio recording of the meeting. The Wisconsin Newspaper Association is working on the bill. The WBA will support it.

Opee nominations coming soon

Do you know someone who should get praise for their work on open government issues? The FOIC will soon be taking nominations for the annual Opee Awards. The FOIC seeks nominations in the areas of media, politics, citizens, and whistleblowers. Send your nominations to and they will be shared with the FOIC.