ATLANTA (Feb. 29, 2016) – A Georgia bill that would restrict warrantless drone surveillance by state and local law enforcement passed an important House committee last week. The legislation would not only establish important privacy protections at the state level, it would also help thwart the federal surveillance state.
A bipartisan coalition of five representatives introduced House Bill 779 (HB779) on Jan. 15. The legislation would prohibit law enforcement from using drones for surveillance without a warrant in most cases. The bill also includes a complete ban on the use of weaponized drones.
The House Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee approved the measure with a favorable report.
HB779 would require law enforcement get a warrant before gathering evidence or information in a private place, or on an individual in a private place. The legislation does allow some exceptions to the warrant requirement. Law enforcement would be able to deploy a drone without a warrant if swift action is necessary to prevent imminent danger to life, for search and rescue, and to track an escapee or fugitive.
The legislation bans the use, copying or disclosure of any information gathered on any person, home or area other than the target named in the warrant.
Any information gathered in violation of the law would be inadmissible in criminal court.
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.
HB779 will now move to the full House for further consideration.