OLYMPIA, Wa., February 17, 2014 – Today, the Washington State house passed a bill putting strict limitations on the use of drones and other “extra-sensory devices” within the state. The vote was 83-15.

House Bill 2789 (HB2789) was filed by Rep. Dave Taylor (R-Moxee) and a bipartisan group of five democrats and six republicans. The bill prohibits the use of drones to collect personal information that “describes, locates, or indexes anything about a person” without a warrant “made in writing, upon oath or affirmation, to a judicial officer…where there is probable cause.” Once such warrants are issued by a judicial officer, the legislation allows their use for ten days. A judicial officer may grant an extension, but for no more than thirty days.

The legislation also bans public agencies from even acquiring drones without specific authorization from the appropriate governing body.

“This bill is about freedom.” noted Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley), who co-sponsored the bill. He wasn’t alone in his sentiments.

Another co-sponsor, Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), noted the growing nature of the surveillance state. “We’re being watched,” he said, referring to cameras on the ground and spies in the sky. Goodman pointed out that the legislation took action to support sections of both the federal and state constitutions.

“HB2789 is a reasonable measure to protect our rights not only under the 4th Amendment to the US constitution, but also under Article I section 7 of the state constitution, which protects privacy to a much greater degree,” said Goodman.

Opponents of the bill, while small in number, were vocal about their position. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge) and Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick) both urged a no vote on the grounds that prohibiting drones from being able to conduct surveillance without a warrant would result in people getting hurt.

Amanda Bowers, the Spokane-based national outreach director of the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC) said this was just par for the course. “This is what we’ve heard from people who want to violate our rights for generations,” she said. “Either we have to give up our liberty, or we’re in danger is their rallying cry. But, as Ben Franklin warned, when we give up liberty for supposed safety, we get and deserve neither.”

While the bill limits drone use by state and local government, it will have serious impact on intended results being pushed by the federal government.  At this stage in the deployment of drones around the country, the federal government is working behind in scenes in many situations to encourage states to operate the drones. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has often issued significant funding grants to local governments so that those agencies can purchase drones.

TAC national communications director 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 federal spies 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.”

The legislation does include some exceptions to the warrant requirement in specific emergency situations. Included are situations such as forest fires, monitoring damage from a “weather-related catastrophe” and surveying for wildlife management, provided that the drone is not being used to investigate criminal activity. It also prohibits the use of information obtained in violation of the act in “any trial, hearing, or other proceeding.”

HB2789 now moves to the state senate where it will first require approval by a committee before the full senate has an opportunity to concur with the house.

Action Items

In Washington State:  Take steps to support limits on drones HERE.

Other States:  Contact your state legislators today – urge them to introduce similar legislation.  Model bills and contact info HERE.

Michael Boldin

The 10th Amendment

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