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New Mexico Bill Would Place Limits on Drones; Hinder Federal Surveillance Program

SANTA FE, N.M. (Jan. 26, 2017) – A bill introduced in the New Mexico Senate 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.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) introduced Senate Bill 167 (SB167) on Jan. 19. Titled The Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act, the legislation would prohibit federal, state and local law enforcement from using a drone with the intent to gather evidence on private property without a warrant in most cases.

The proposed law would allow for the warrantless drone surveillance when exigent circumstances exist.

For the purposes of this section, exigent circumstances exist if a law enforcement agency is engaged in hot pursuit or possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is necessary to prevent imminent danger to life.

Any evidence collected or derived from information gathered in violation of the law would be inadmissible in court. SB167 would also require legally obtained data “be maintained together with a complete and unbroken record of chain of custody consistent with law enforcement procedures.”

Impact on the Federal Surveillance State

Although restrictions in SB167 apply to federal law enforcement, as well as state and local police, it remains unclear whether the state could actually stop federal drone surveillance. practically speaking. Nevertheless, provisions in the bill would throw 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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SB167 was referred to the Senate Public Affairs Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.