One year ago, officials at the Federal Aviation Administration rang in the holidays as only bureaucrats can: writing new regulations forcing drone owners to register themselves with the federal government before their first flight.

And because nothing says “Christmas” quite like criminal fines and jail time, the agency promised $277,500 in civil and criminal penalties and three years’ imprisonment to any overeager youngster who rushed out to play without first thinking about the wishes of a distant bureaucracy.

The FAA’s recreational registry was, and remains, one of the most egregious acts of regulatory overcriminalization in recent memory. Even the agency’s own registration task force reported that the criminal penalties drone owners would face were disproportionate in the hobby drone context. Nevertheless, the FAA charged ahead, releasing its interim final rule to the public just three weeks after the task force report, and a scant seven days before going into effect.

Before it could regulate, though, the agency first had to get around the Congress. In 2012, legislators passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, plainly stating that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding model aircraft” flown for recreational purposes.

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