States step up fight against use of surveillance drones by law enforcement

In 11 states, lawmakers are proposing various restrictions on the use of drones over their skies amid concerns the unmanned aerial vehicles could be exploited by local authorities to spy on Americans.  Concerns have now mounted after the FAA began establishing safety standards for civilian drones, which are becoming increasingly affordable and small in size.


And some police agencies have said the drones could be used for surveillance of suspects, search-and-rescue operations, and gathering details on damage caused by natural disasters.

On Tuesday, Virginia lawmakers approved a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by police and government agencies.  Proponents of the legislation say the unfettered use of drones could infringe on Virginians’ privacy rights. The legislation was supported by the ACLU, the Tea Party Federation and agriculture groups, while several law enforcement organizations opposed the moratorium.

“Our founders had no conception of things that would fly over them at night and peer into their backyards and send signals back to a home base,” said Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, a sponsor of the Senate bill.

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And to address police concerns legislators carved out exceptions for the use of drones in emergencies, or to search for missing children or seniors.  The General Assembly action came a day after the Charlottesville City Council passed a resolution imposing a two-year moratorium on the use of drones within city limits and urging the General Assembly to pass regulations.

The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group behind the city’s effort, said Charlottesville is the first city in the country to limit the use of drones by police.

Then in Montana, a libertarian-minded state that doesn’t even let police use remote cameras to issue traffic tickets, Democrats and Republicans are banding together to back multiple proposals restricting drone use. They say drones, most often associated with overseas wars, aren’t welcome in Big Sky Country.

“I do not think our citizens would want cameras to fly overhead and collect data on our lives,” Republican state Sen. Matthew Rosendale told a legislative panel on Tuesday.

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The full Montana Senate endorsed a somewhat broader measure Tuesday that bans information collected by drones from being used in court. It also would bar local and state government ownership of drones equipped with weapons, such as stunning devices.

In January, North Dakota lawmaker introduced a similar bill  North Dakota lawmaker introduced a similar bill following the 2011 arrest of a Lakota farmer during a 16-hour standoff with police. A drone was used to help a SWAT team apprehend Rodney Brossart.

Seattle police last year, received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to train people to operate drones for use in investigations, search-and-rescue operations and natural disasters. Residents and the ACLU called on city officials to tightly regulate the information that can be collected by drones, which are not in use yet.

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