Nation's First Drone Laws are Coming Out


Two states down, fifty to go?

Earlier this month, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was the first to sign a law that would ground unmanned aerial systems, or drones, for law enforcement use except in cases were there was an emergency. On April 11, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed a law that prohibited law enforcement from using a drone in investigations without a warrant. That means that Idaho law enforcement will need a judge to sign off on whether there is probable cause for drone use.

Drone legislation has been proposed in approximately 30 states so far, but each state varies as to what is off limits for police. Advocacy & Policy Strategist Allie Bohm at the American Civil Liberties Union points out that the majority of the bills have clauses requiring warrants as Idaho has said:

The good news is that the vast majority of the bills require a probable cause warrant in order for law enforcement to use drones to collect information to use against someone in court. This list includes bills in ArizonaCaliforniaFloridaGeorgiaIdaho,IllinoisKentuckyMarylandMassachusettsMinnesotaMissouriMontana, New Hampshire, New MexicoNorth DakotaOklahomaOregonRhode IslandSouth CarolinaTennesseeTexasWashington, and Wyoming.

Although Bohm says Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the states covering all their privacy bases: 

Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the leaders here. Both states' bills prohibit law enforcement from identifying anyone or anything other than the target that justified the warrant and drone deployment. And, they further ensure that wherever drones are used—whether in criminal investigations, searching for missing persons, fighting forest fires, or whatever—information that is incidentally collected cannot be used in court.

Reason TV recently visted Alameda County in Northern California to see first hand the debate over drone use by the local sheriff's department. While Sheriff Ahern says he wants to use a small drone about the size of a laptop for search and rescue, residents and privacy advocates want to make sure, legally, that's all he can do: