HARTFORD, Conn. (March 1, 2016) – A bill introduced in the Connecticut House would restrict warrantless drone surveillance by state and local law enforcement. It would not only establish important privacy protections at the state level, it would also help thwart the federal surveillance state.
The Committee on Public Safety and Security introduced House Bill 5274 (HB5274). The legislation would prohibit state and local law enforcement from using a drone to conduct surveillance on private property without obtaining a warrant or getting the owner’s permission in most cases. Also this bill would criminalize voyeurism and weaponization of drone, and the use of a drone to transport goods to inmates.
The bill allows a few exceptions to the warrant requirement for exigent circumstances. Police could deploy drones with a reasonable belief that an emergency situation exists and the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle is there is imminent threat to the life or safety of an individual, for training purposes, to document a specific crime scene, and to conduct search and rescue.
The bill would require non-probable cause related images, footage, or data obtained that were through the use of an unmanned aircraft system under these provisions to be permanently destroyed within 90 days.
IMPACT ON THE FEDERAL SURVEILLANCE STATE
Although the proposed bills focus exclusively on state and local drone use and does not apply directly to federal agencies, it throws 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 state 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.
HB5274 is scheduled for a public hearing in the Committee on Public Safety and Security on March 1. It must pass through the committee by a majority vote before moving on to the full House.