The Wisconsin legislature has passed a bill which would severely restrict the use of drones within the state, and it is heading to the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 196 (SB196) bans the weaponization of drones and stops government use of drones except after a proper warrant is issued. It received tremendous bipartisan support after its introduction next year, and passed both chambers on voice votes on Apr. 1 with a slight amendment.
Tenth Amendment Center national outreach director Amanda Bowers noted that Wisconsin is just the latest amidst a growing number of states putting strict limitations on drones. “Already, a number of states have passed similar bills into law,” she said. “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. Earlier this year, the South Carolina House passed a similar bill by a vote of 100-0.
The ACLU has weighed in on the issue on a national level, warning that “unregulated drone use could pose serious threats to our privacy.”
Bowers said that this kind of bill has 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.
The legislation does include some narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement to allay the fears of law enforcement officials who did not want to be hamstrung in emergency situations when a drone’s use might spell life or death. These exceptions named in the bill are ” to locate an escaped prisoner, to aid in a search and rescue mission, or to prevent imminent harm to a person or the imminent destruction of evidence.”
The bill also “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.” This provides a privacy safeguard against drones operated by civilians as well.
Now that it has successfully passed through the WI state legislature, SB196 will now head to Gov. Walker’s desk where he will have the opportunity to sign the bill into law.
In Wisconsin: Contact Gov. Walker and ask him to sign SB196 into law. You can contact the governor HERE.
In other states: follow in Wisconsin’s footsteps – Take steps to limit drone use in your state HERE.