This week, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill into law that places strict limits on the use of drones by law enforcement.
Known as the “Government Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Act,” SB167 states that “a law enforcement agency may not obtain, receive, or use data acquired through an unmanned aerial vehicle unless the data is obtained pursuant to a search warrant; in accordance with judicially recognized exceptions to warrant requirements.” It also requires state government agencies to report drone use to the public.
The bill had passed overwhelmingly by the Senate 23-0-6 and the House by a 67-5-3 vote.
“While unmanned aerial devices are useful to law enforcement, invasive surveillance must be prevented,” bill sponsor Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson told The Associated Press.
SB167 allows a non-governmental actor to share private information gathered by drones with law enforcement if “the data appears to pertain to the commission of a crime; or the non-government actor believes, in good faith, that: the data pertains to an imminent or ongoing emergency involving danger of death or serious bodily injury to an individual; and disclosing the data would assist in remedying the emergency.”
Connor Boyack of the Libertas Institute noted that drones would still be available for use in situations where they could be helpful.
“Drones offer law enforcement officers an important tool for search and rescue efforts, accident surveillance, and other scenarios where exigence demands the ability to remotely and easily deploy such a device,” he said.
At the same time, though, Boyack pointed out that passage of SB167 was necessary to stop potential misuse.
“Because of their size and ease of use, they also have a high potential for abuse in surveilling innocent individuals and encroaching upon a person’s privacy,” he continued.
“While these tools should remain available to use when necessary, their proliferation should be discouraged by requiring a judge to sign off on a warrant and ensuring that the law provides for appropriate protections to minimize this potential for abuse. Senate Bill 167 accomplishes this and also includes reporting requirements so Utahans can better understand, in the years ahead, how this emerging technology is being used in our communities.”
In addition to limiting drone use by state and local government, the bill will impact federal efforts to utilize drones through the state.. At this stage in the deployment of drones around the country, the feds are working behind in scenes to encourage states to operate the drones. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hands out significant funding grants to local governments so that those agencies can purchase drones.
Tenth Amendment Center national communications director Mike Maharrey pointed out that banning states from using drones will thwart federal spying plans as well.
“The plan is pretty clear,” he said. “The feds provide grants to buy drones, and once state and local agencies around the country are operating them, all that the feds need to do is invoke information-sharing programs under the PATRIOT Act, and they’ve got a network of spies flying everywhere. When states ban their use without a warrant, this kind of future plan is unlikely to ever take off.”
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