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Connecticut Bill Taking On Warrantless Drone Surveillance Unanimously Passes State Senate

HARTFORD, Conn. (June 3, 2015) – A Connecticut 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 unanimously passed the state Senate yesterday.

The House of Representatives Program Review and Investigations Committee introduced Senate Bill 974 (SB974) in February. The bill requires law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before deploying a drone with a few specific exceptions. It also bans the use of drones armed with a deadly weapon or tear gas.

SB974 passed the state Senate 36-0 on Tuesday and now moves on to the House for consideration.

Police would be able to operate a drone without a warrant if the the subject of the information collected, or the property owner gives prior written permission; if the law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has occurred or will occur, and exigent circumstances exist making it impossible to get a warrant; if a law enforcement officer reasonably believes that there is an imminent threat to the life or safety of an individual; for training purposes; for search and rescue; or to reconstruct or document a crime scene.

Under the proposed law, if a drone collects information on an individual or property, and no probable cause exists to believe that an offense was committed by that individual or on that property, the law enforcement agency must destroy the information within 48 hours, or alter it to conceal the identity or location. This provision will prevent the creation of permanent data bases with information collected by drones.

Finally, the bill requires law enforcement agencies owning drones to register with the Office of Policy and Management and create a publicly available written policy dictating their operation.

Impact on the Federal Surveillance State

Although SB974 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 SB974 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.

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