Law enforcement and government agencies are itching to use unmanned drones for everything from finding lost hikers to tracking shifting wildfires. But privacy watchdogs are urging state legislatures to step in and put surveillance restrictions in place first.
More than 35 states are considering unmanned drone legislation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The bills include ways to attract an industry that could generate billions. Many states have taken additional steps to lure the unmanned aircraft industry, such as trying to become a federal testing site, with hopes it will be a financial boon.
Unmanned Drones The New Law Enforcement Watchdog
Utah State Sen. Howard Stephenson is warning that the state needs to set ground rules about law enforcement use of unmanned drones, before they become more widespread. To convince his colleagues, he played a video clip of George Orwell’s “1984” in which a unmanned drone hovers and peers into windows.
I don’t think we want that type of thing happening in our society,” he said. “It’s a very frightening thing.”
Senator Stephenson’s legislation, if accepted, would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using drones to collect data. It would also regulate the collecting and saving of any unrelated images the drones capture.
Box Elder County Sheriff J. Lynn Yeates, from Brigham City, Utah is already using a $7,000 multi-rotor unmanned drone; his department uses it solely for search and rescue and fire spotting.
Yeates said it can be used to find hikers and others who get lost in the nearby steep, winding canyons and crevices every year. He said the device will not only save hours when trying to rescue people, but it will be less dangerous for his all-volunteer rescue team.
Unmanned drone systems are expected to be a billion-dollar industry in the U.S. over the next three years, and if states like Utah can land a portion of that, they’ll see big economic gains.
In Rhode Island this year, lawmakers are considering legislation that requires law enforcement to hold public hearings before acquiring a unmanned drone. They’d need approval from local leaders or the governor, and would need to consult the state attorney general and a judge before using it.
California legislators are considering measures that would require police to obtain a warrant when using unmanned drones and notify the public when they intend to use them. It also requires any data collected to be destroyed within six months and bars public agencies from arming the devices.
Unmanned drones or UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), are a small aircraft that can be controlled either by a remote control on the ground or by an onboard computer. The UAV can be launched and recovered by an automatic system or an external operator on the ground.
They are usually deployed for military operations, but are seeing more widespread use in a small but growing number of civil applications, such as policing and fighting wildfires, and nonmilitary security work, such as surveillance of pipelines.
Unmanned Drones The New Law Enforcement Watchdog, Surveillance Restrictions Needed First.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.