A bill to protect the privacy rights of Hawaii residents from unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) has been passed unanimously through the State Senate.

Senate Bill 2608 (SB2608) was passed by a 25-0 vote on Mar. 6. The bill makes it ‘unlawful for any law enforcement agency to use an unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance, including but not limited to capturing images, photographs, or recordings’ with a few noteworthy exceptions.

The legislation allows for law enforcement to use drones if a proper warrant is issued, an emergency is declared by the Department of Homeland Security, a search and rescue mission requires them, or the governor declares a state disaster. The bill also requires law enforcement to destroy all illegally-gathered information with drones to be destroyed within 30 days. It also gives Hawaiians whose rights have been violated by drones the chance to sue the state in civil court, and requires public reporting about drone use.

Although this bill isn’t as strong as some of the other anti-drone bills that have been passed throughout the country, it is a substantial step in the right direction. Passing a measure such as SB2608 can lead to stricter regulations against drone use being accepted by the legislature down the road. A recent example of this is the state of Illinois whose previously passed drone legislation helped pave the way for a better bill to be introduced this year.

SB2608 is a part of a larger trend of many states across the country taking action against drones. Tenth Amendment Center national outreach director Amanda Bowers said, “Already, a number of states have passed similar bills into law, and we are expecting more in the coming weeks and months. From California to Washington State, and from New York to Missouri, legislators and the general public from left to right want to see a dangerous future stopped before it happens.”

Bills were signed into law in 2013 in Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia that either limited or banned the use of drones by law enforcement. Bowers said that these types of bills have significant ramifications at the federal level because Washington D.C. is pushing and funding drone use at the state level.

“The feds want to push these on the states, and if the states refuse, it’ll foil their plan,” she said. “They already spy on Americans so much that Rand Paul said it numbered in the ‘Gazillions’ after a secret meeting last fall. If the feds can get the states to start buying up and running drones over our cities, they’ll certainly want access to all that surveillance information in the future. It’s important that states begin drawing a line in the sand now – no aerial spying here.”

Bowers said that the federal government serves as the primary engine behind the expansion of drone surveillance carried out by states and local communities. The Department of Homeland Security issues large grants to local governments so they can purchase drones. “Those grants, in and of themselves, represent an unconstitutional expansion of power,” she said.

“If enough states pass bills like this, it’ll foil their plans before they ever take off.”

If their plans are not foiled soon, drones constantly lurking in the skies may become a permanent fixture of life in the United States. According to a 2012 FAA estimate, there could be as many as 30,000 drones in the American skies by the end of the decade. If we are not successful right now in stopping or limiting the use of government drones, the 4th Amendment and basic privacy rights for individuals may be snuffed out forever.

SB2608 will have to pass through its committee assignments before the House can have a chance to concur with the Senate’s decision. There is much work that still needs to be done before the bill can be signed by the governor and become law.


If you live in Hawaii: Click HERE to find out what steps you can take to support SB2608.

If you live in another state: Take action to limit drone use in your state HERE.