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Hawaii Bill Would Limit Warrantless Drone Surveillance

HONOLULU, Hawaii (Dec. 13, 2017) – During the 2018 legislative session, the Hawaii Senate will take up a bill that would limit the warrantless use of surveillance drones. The legislation would not only establish important privacy protections at the state level, it would also help thwart the federal surveillance state.

Rep. Joseph Souki introduced House Bill 314 (HB314) last January. The legislation prohibit the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle to gather evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct, or conduct in violation of a federal or state law, without first obtaining a warrant.

The legislation also bans all weaponized drones.

Last spring, the Hawaii House passed HB314 by a 50-0 vote. The bill will carry over to the 2018 legislative session for consideration in the Senate.

Information or data obtained from an unmanned aerial vehicle used by a law enforcement agency would not be admissible in a prosecution or proceeding within the state unless it was obtained pursuant to a warrant, or in accordance with an exception to the warrant requirement, as provided by a court of competent jurisdiction.

HB314 also includes provisions relating to data retention.

Any images or any other forms of information or data lawfully obtained under this section which are not accompanied by a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the images, information, or data contain evidence of a crime or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or trial shall not be retained for more than ninety days.

The law would allow other government agencies to use drones for non-surveillance purposes.

HB314 also includes restrictions on the personal use of drones.

A second bill (SB454) very similar to HB314 introduced in the Senate last year will also carry over to the 2018 session. It would have the same basic effect as HB314.

Impact on the Federal Surveillance State

Although HB314 would primarily apply only to state and local drone use, 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.

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HB314 was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.