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Kentucky Bill to Limit Warrantless Drone Surveillance Passes House 99-0

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 23, 2017) – A Kentucky bill that would require police to get a warrant before engaging in drone surveillance in most situations unanimously passed the House yesterday.

Rep. Diane St. Onge (R-Lakeside Park), Rep. Reginald Meeks (D-Louisville) and Rep. Sal Santoro (R-Florence) introduced House Bill 291 (HB291) on Feb. 10. The legislation would require a judicial warrant specifically naming the targeted individual before police could use a drone for surveillance in most situations. The proposed law would allow warrantless use of a drone when “exigent circumstances” exist.

The House approved HB291 by a 99-0 vote.

HB291 would require police to minimize data collection from non-targeted individuals and property. The drone could not use facial recognition or other biometric matching technology on a person not named in a warrant. Any non-targeted data would have to remain confidential and could only be disclosed by a court order.

Evidence gathered in violation of the law would not be admissible in any criminal, civil or administrative proceeding in the state, or for the enforcement of any state or local law.

HB291 would also prohibit anybody in the state from arming a drone with a lethal payload. This leaves open the door for police to arm drones with non-lethal weapons.

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.


HB291 will now move to the Senate for further consideration.