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NC licensing board threatens drone photographer for illegal “land surveying”

Reason has the story of yet another North Carolina licensing board willing to throw people in jail for things that violate the scope of practice in their minds:

Michael Jones launched a drone photography business in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 2016, taking aerial photos of private property (on behalf of the property owners) and using tech tools to put the images together as maps. According to the Institute for Justice, which is representing him, Jones’ business—360 Virtual Drone Services—did not represent or market itself as engaging in “land surveying.” The maps he created were not designed to be used to establish legal property boundaries.

These were maps developed for property owners’ and developers’ purposes, like determining ways to alter the land and to evaluate the state of their property. Jones is simply using drone technology to collate images of property and present them in topographical maps and 3D visualizations.

This has run Jones afoul of North Carolina’s Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors, which oversees the licensing of professionals in these fields. In 2018, the board sent Jones a letter telling him he was being investigated for possibly engaging in surveying without a license. Then, in 2019, he was sent a cease-and-desist letter telling him to stop his mapping work. If he did not, he faced the possibility of civil and even criminal charges for engaging in surveying work without a license. He could be fined up to $1,000 and get sent to jail for up to 60 days.

The Institute for Justice has this one teed up.

This kind of nonsense probably wouldn’t happen so much if North Carolina learned from the state’s stinging U.S. Supreme Court loss in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission (2015) — after all, many other states did — and actually reformed our outdated licensing regime. Good news! We have the path to reform already … mapped out.

Jon Sanders / Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...