Two bills under consideration this year in the Washington State Legislature would restrict the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) by government officials, limiting their use for surveillance by law enforcement without a warrant.

Senate Bill 5714 (SB5714), introduced by State Sen. James Hargrove, and House Bill 1639 (HB1639), introduced by State Rep. David Taylor would, among other things, limit the ability of law enforcement to use drones.

HB1639 would, save for certain circumstances, make it unlawful for an agency to “operate an extraordinary sensing device (drone) or use or disclose personal information about any person acquired through the operation of an extraordinary sensing device.”

It would also require the money used to purchase a drone to be authorized by the legislature for that specific purpose. It would also require the explicit approval from the local governing body to use it for a specific purpose.

A drone would only be allowed to collect personal information…”if the operation and collection of personal information is pursuant to a search warrant issued by a court of competent jurisdiction…”

SB5714 states that except for specified exceptions, “it is unlawful for an agency to operate an extraordinary sensing device or disclose personal information about any person acquired through the operation of an extraordinary sensing device.” This bill, too, would require the state legislature to authorize the funds to purchase any drone for a state department or agency. Yet, it does allow them to operate drones without a warrant if they do not intend to “collect personal information, the operation is unlikely to accidentally collect personal information, and the operation is not for purposes of regulatory enforcement,” albeit most of the exceptions pertain to weather-related disasters.

Although drone use would still be permitted in specific circumstances, these bills set a near prohibition on their use in areas of great concern, warrantless surveillance.

Tenth Amendment Center communications director Mike Maharrey has noted that bills such as this have significant ramifications at the federal level because Washington D.C. is pushing and funding drone use at the state level. He noted 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.”

“The feds want to push these on the states, and if the states refuse, it’ll foil their plan,” he said. “They already spy on Americans so much that Rand Paul said it numbered in the ‘Gazillions’ after a secret meeting with intelligence officials. 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.”

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

ACTION ITEMS

For Washington: To support this bill, follow the steps at THIS LINK

All Other States: Take steps to stop warrantless drone spying HERE.

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