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Hawaii House Committee Passes Bill to Limit Warrantless Drone Surveillance, Hinder Federal Surveillance Program

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HONOLULU, Hawaii (March 3, 2017) – Earlier this week, an important Hawaii House committee unanimously passed 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) on Jan. 20. The legislation would 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.

The House Committee on Consumer Protection and Finance passed HB314 by a 7-0 vote on Feb. 28.

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.

Impact on the Federal Surveillance State

Although the proposed law would only apply 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 now moves to the full House for further consideration.