AUGUSTA, Maine (June 21, 2015) A Maine bill that would drastically restrict the use of drones by state and local law enforcement and serve to thwart one aspect of the federal surveillance state was approved by the full legislature last week. It will now go to the Gov. LePage’s desk where he can sign it into law.

Introduced by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) and co-sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin), Legislative Document 25 (LD25) is titled”An Act To Protect the Privacy of Citizens from Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Uses.” It would their use “for criminal investigations without a warrant… except as permitted by a recognized exception to the requirement for a warrant under the Constitution of Maine or the United States Constitution.”

Law enforcement agencies would be immediately banned from acquiring or purchasing any drones unless given express permission from the local governing body overseeing them.

In addition, law enforcement are expressly banned from using drones “to conduct surveillance of private citizens peacefully exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.” Weaponized drones would be banned as well.

In no case may a weaponized unmanned aerial vehicle be used or its use facilitated by a state or local law enforcement agency in this State. [emphasis added]

Drone use would still be permissible in certain instances under LD25. Law enforcement would be allowed to “use an unmanned aerial vehicle for the purpose of a search and rescue operation when the law enforcement agency determines that use of an unmanned aerial vehicle is necessary to alleviate an immediate danger to any person or for training exercises related to such uses.”

The Maine state House and Senate approved the bill on June 18 with voice votes.

Impact on the Federal Surveillance State

Although LD25 focuses exclusively on state and local drone use and does not apply directly federal agencies, the legislation would throw a high hurdle in front of some federal programs.

Much of the funding for drones at the state and local level comes from the federal government, in and of itself a constitutional violation. In return, federal agencies tap into the information gathered by state and local law enforcement through fusion centers and a federal program known as the information sharing environment.

According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators… have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant.

The federal government encourages and funds a network of drones at the sate and local level across the U.S., thereby gaining access to a massive data pool on Americans without having to expend the resources to collect the information itself. By placing restrictions on drone use, state and local governments limit the data available that the feds can access.

In a nutshell, without state and local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. This represents a major blow to the surveillance state and a win for privacy.

Bills like LD25 make part of a bigger strategy to put and end to government drone surveillance. Virginia led the way with its 2013 moratorium and appears set to take the next step. Each bill introduced, passed, and signed into law creates and builds momentum for other states to do the same.

Now that it has passed through the state House and Senate, the fate of this reform rests in the hands of Gov. LePage. To urge him to sign LD25 into law, call him at 207-287-3531.

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