MADISON, Wisc. – Wisconsin joined the growing number of states considering restrictions on drone use last week.
No Wisconsin law enforcement agency may use a drone to gather evidence or other information in a criminal investigation without first obtaining a search warrant under s. 968.12. This subsection does not apply to the use of a drone to assist in an active search and rescue operation, to locate an escaped prisoner, or if a law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the use of a drone is necessary to prevent imminent danger to an individual or to prevent imminent destruction of evidence.
The legislation also bans weaponized drones completely and applies criminal penalties for violations of the law.
A person who sells, possesses, or uses a weaponized drone is guilty of a Class H felony, and may be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to six years, or both. The bill prohibits a person, except a law enforcement officer who has a search warrant or is acting for a permissible emergency purpose, from using a drone that is equipped with video or audio recording equipment to photograph, record, or otherwise observe another individual in a place where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Anyone who does so is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, and may be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to nine months, or both.
Unlike many drone bills under consideration or passed by state legislatures, the Wisconsin bill does not provide an exception for Department of Homeland Security defined terror threats.
While the legislation only limits drone use by state and local government, it will seriously impact federal plans. At this stage in the ‘drone game,’ the feds are working hard behind the scenes to get states to operate the drones for them.