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New York Bills Would Restrict Drone Use for Surveillance

The New York state Senate and Assembly will each consider a bill that that would significantly restrict the use of drones by government in the Empire State.

Introduced on Jan. 7, Senate Bill 411 (S0411) by Sen. Gordon Denlinger (R-Syosset) and Assembly Bill 1247 (A01247) would ban law enforcement from using a drone in a criminal investigation with a few exceptions, and would prohibit any “person, entity, or state agency” from using a drone for surveillance anyplace a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy unless they meet specific requirements.

Under the legislation, the warrant requirement is waived if there exists “reasonable suspicion that swift action is necessary to prevent imminent danger to life,” or enforcing controlled substance laws. Other requirements for lawful drone use by law enforcement officials under the bills are “to patrol national borders to prevent or deter illegal entry of any persons or illegal substances” as well as “to counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization based on credible intelligence determined by the commissioner of homeland security and emergency services.” Private individuals are authorized to use drones for recreational and hobby purposes.

Individuals who refuse to comply with the rules and regulations mandated in the legislation are “guilty of a class b misdemeanor; provided, however, that if the violation… is committed in the course of or in conjunction with the commission of a felony, a person… is guilty of a class c felony.” This gives overzealous government officials an added incentive to not violate the privacy rights of New York residents with drones.

Evidence gathered in violation of either bill would be deemed inadmissible in a New York court of law. In addition, individuals are empowered to file civil suits should the government violate their privacy rights in conflict with the provisions of the bill.

While activists may find exceptions in the bill troublesome, one must consider that currently law enforcement can utilize drones with zero restrictions. While not perfect, both bills would represent a significant improvement over the status quo.

OffNow Mike Maharrey noted that New York is ready to join a growing chorus of states putting strict limits on drones. “Already, a number of states have passed similar bills into law, and we are expecting more in the coming weeks and months,” she said. “From California to Washington State, and from New York to Missouri, legislators and the general public from left to right want to see a dangerous future stopped before it happens.”

Maharrey said that this kind of bill has significant ramifications at the federal level because Washington D.C. is pushing and funding drone use at the state level.

“The feds want to push these on the states, and if the states refuse, it’ll foil their plan,” he said. “They already spy on Americans so much that Rand Paul said it numbered in the ‘Gazillions’ after a secret meeting last fall. If the feds can get the states to start buying up and running drones over our cities, they’ll certainly want access to all that surveillance information in the future. It’s important that states begin drawing a line in the sand now – no aerial spying here.”

Maharrey said that the federal government serves as the primary engine behind the expansion of drone surveillance carried out by states and local communities. The Department of Homeland Security issues large grants to local governments so they can purchase drones. “Those grants, in and of themselves, represent an unconstitutional expansion of power.”

“If enough states pass bills like this, it’ll foil their plans before they ever take off.”

The ACLU has weighed in on the issue on a national level, warning that “unregulated drone use could pose serious threats to our privacy.” That may be the understatement of the century. Unless bills like these gain traction quickly and are signed into law, our freedom to be left alone may evaporate before our very eyes.

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