Yesterday, the Idaho legislature passed Senate Bill 1134 (S1134), which would severely restrict the use of drones by law enforcement within the state. The bill is intended to protect privacy and bars police from using unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance without a warrant — except in emergencies like hostage standoff.

Under the bill, anyone unlawfully targeted could press charges and would be entitled to $1,000 in damages. The House approved the measure 66-2 early Wednesday, and the Senate followed suit later on a 30-4 vote. The bill is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

The bill reads, in part:

Absent a warrant…no person, entity or state agency shall use an unmanned aircraft system to intentionally conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record specifically targeted persons or specifically targeted private property

While the bill only limits drone use by state and local government, it will have some serious impact on intended results being pushed by the federal government. At this stage in the ‘drone game,’ the feds are working hard behind the scenes to get states to operate the drones for them.

In fact, the primary engine behind the expansion of drone surveillance being carried out by states and local communities is the Federal government itself. Department of Homeland Security issues large grants to local governments so that those agencies can purchase drones. Those grants, in and of themselves, are an unconstitutional expansion of power.

The goal? Fund a network of drones around the country and put the operational burden on the states. Once the create a web over the whole country, DHS steps in with requests for ‘information sharing. Bills like these put a dent in this kind of long-term strategy. Without the states and local communities operating the drones today, it’s going to be nearly impossible for DHS plans to – take off.  And with the above restrictions, S1134 would play a big part in blocking these federal drone plans.

However, the final passed version of the bill does include some exceptions:

except for emergency response for safety, search and rescue or controlled substance investigations

The Tenth Amendment Center considers it quite reasonable to authorize the use of technology for safety, search and rescue.  But, the additional exception for “controlled substance investigations” is not acceptable.  With this language, the bill is basically saying – “The police cannot spy on you, unless they’re doing so to investigate you for marijuana, or another drug.”

That’s going to create an opening wide enough that a truck can drive through it since a large percentage of law enforcement resources are dedicated to “controlled substance” investigations.  Authorizing this kind of search without a warrant is a violation of Article I, Section 17 of the Idaho Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue without probable cause shown by affidavit, particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or thing to be seized.

The Idaho constitution (which closely resembles the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution) doesn’t have exceptions for “controlled substance” investigations, and warrants are still required no matter what kind of criminal investigation is being conducted.

If the bill does not become law, the status quo will remain:

1.  Law enforcement will continue the claim to use drones in controlled substance investigations without a warrant

2.  Law enforcement will continue the claim to use drones in all other investigations without a warrant

Because of this, the TAC still encourages the governor to sign S1134 because doing so eliminates item #2.  The People of Idaho, though, will need to be extremely vigilant and work to pass a bill removing item #1 in the near future.  Without that change, Idaho skies will still be covered by drones in the long run.


If you’re outside of Washington, please contact your own legislators regarding anti-drone legislation. If none has been introduced in your state, you can email them The Privacy Protection Act model legislation.

Track the status of drone nullification in states around the country HERE

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