by Rebecca Palermo, Constitution Campaign

The Maine state legislature has introduced a bill that would limit the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, notably requiring a search warrant before using the vehicles to photograph private property. It would also prohibit the use of facial recognition or biometric software on any law enforcement drones in Maine.

The author of the bill, Senator John Patrick, explained:

I’ve always had a problem with giving Big Brother more tools to look at the masses. I really don’t like the idea of just anyone being able to watch everyone for anything.

Critics of the bill claim that its language is too broad to be effective. Drones also have several supporters in Maine for uses like land surveys, weather monitoring, or search and rescue operations. In particular, Viking Unmanned Aerial Systems Inc., a Limington, Maine, based company, has been vocal in its support of drones for “specific uses,” and plans to begin manufacturing drones in Saco, Maine. The Maine Department of Public Safety recently bought a drone for $300, but the agency claims that it is waiting for advice from the state government as to policy for their use.

Further, the bill is raising many questions about how drones should be legally restricted. Should the pictures from a drone operated by state government be accessible through Maine’s Freedom of Access Act or the federal Freedom of Information Act? Is the expectation of privacy limited to personal property or should drones also be monitored in the public sphere?

The Maine Deputy Attorney General, William Stokes, is suggesting a year long moratorium on drones from law enforcement to consider all the legal possibilities and thoroughly flesh out the bill.

Maine is just the latest of 21 states, including Massachusetts and Virginia, that are debating moratoriums on the use of drones. The legislature is planning to debate the merits of the bill further on March 7, 2013. In the meantime, the Maine branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and many other civil liberties groups are strongly supporting the bill. Eric Brakey of the Defense of Liberty PAC, said, “Regardless of our political party we can all understand the desire to be free from aggressions on our privacy and our liberty.”

Michael Boldin

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