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New Hampshire House Passes Bill Placing Limits on Drone Surveillance

CONCORD, N.H. (March 23, 2016) – Today, the New Hampshire House  passed a bill that would restrict the warrantless use of drones by state and local law enforcement. The legislation would not only establish important privacy protections at the state level, they would also help thwart the federal surveillance state.

Rep. Neil Kurk, along with three other legislators, introduced House Bill 602 (HB602) last year. Under the proposed law, New Hampshire state and local law enforcement agencies could not “use drones, or obtain, receive, use, or retain information acquired by or through a drone, to engage in surveillance, to acquire evidence, or to enforce laws,” without a warrant, with a few specific exceptions.

The House passed HB602 251-114. It will now move on to the Senate for further consideration.

Exceptions to the warrant requirement include use of a drone with prior consent of the person under surveillance, if reasonable suspicion exists to believe swift action is needed to prevent imminent harm to life or serious damage to property, to counter high risk of terrorist attacks, for training and for a few other specifically defined criteria. It also allows for “judicially recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.”

The legislation limits drone use under the exceptions to 48 hours, after which the law enforcement agency must obtain a warrant. Warrants must also be renewed after 48 hours.

HB602 contains a blanket ban on government use of drones armed with lethal or non-lethal weapons, with one exception. Law enforcement can use a drone to “to disperse lachrymatory agents to quell a violent mass civil disorder or riot as defined in RSA 644:1” within strict criteria.

The legislation also features some additional privacy protections, and requires the destruction of any evidence obtained in violation of the law, rendering it inadmissible in court. Such evidence also cannot be used to establish probable cause.

An amendment approved on the House floor added criminal penalties for those violating provisions of the act.

Impact on the Federal Surveillance State

Although HB602 focuses 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.

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