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Kentucky Bill Would Limit Warrantless Drone Surveillance

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Nov. 10, 2017) – A bill prefiled in the Kentucky House would require police to get a warrant before engaging in drone surveillance in most situations. Passage of this legislation would not only establish important privacy protections at the state level, it would also help thwart the federal surveillance state.

Rep. Diane St. Onge (R-Lakeside Park) prefiled BR2 earlier this summer. The legislation would prohibit the use of a drone for a “search” unless authorized under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 10 of the Kentucky Constitution. This would require police to get a warrant before conducting drone surveillance in most situations. In order for the search to be valid, the warrant would have to specifically authorize the use of an unmanned aircraft system.

The proposed law would require police to minimize data collection on non-suspects and would prohibit the disclosure of any such data without a court order.

Any evidence collected in violation of the law would be inadmissible as evidence in any civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding in the state.

BR2 would also prohibit the operation of any drone equipped with a lethal payload.

A similar bill passed the Kentucky House during the 2017 session, but never made it to the Senate floor for a vote.

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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BR2 will be officially introduced after the 2018 regular session begins on Jan. 2. At that time, it will receive a bill number and a committee assignment.