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North Dakota Senate Passes Bill to Stop Warrantless Drone Spying

BISMARCK, N.D. (April 6, 2015) – The North Dakota Senate  passed a bill that would drastically restrict the use of drones by state and local law enforcement. If ultimately signed into law, this legislation would not only establish important privacy protections at the state level, it would also thwart the federal surveillance state.

If passed into law, HB1328 would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before deploying a drone for surveillance purposes with only a few exceptions. The legislation also provides a blanket prohibition on the use of weaponized drones, on the use of unmanned aircraft for private surveillance, and on drone surveillance of persons exercising their right of free speech or assembly.

In addition to the prohibitions on drone use, the bill includes extensive reporting requirement for agencies deploying drones for legitimate purposes. Any images or data collected legally under the act that is not “accompanied by a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the images or data contain evidence of a crime, or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or trial” must be destroyed within 90 days.

On April 2, the North Dakota Senate passed a slightly amendmened version of HB1328 29-17. The House passed HB1328 by a 74-19 vote last month. The legislation now goes back to the House for concurrence to the amendment.

The legislation does include some exceptions to the warrant requirement. Law enforcement can use a drone without a warrant for patrolling the border to prevent illegal entry of persons or illegal contraband, if law enforcement has a “reasonable suspicion that absent swift preventative action, there is an imminent danger to life or bodily harm,” during a natural disaster, or for some research purposes.

Even with the exceptions, HB1328 would represent a vast improvement over the status quo in North Dakota – absolutely no restriction on the use of drones.

Impact on the Federal Surveillance State

Although HB1328 focuses exclusively on state and local drone use and does not apply directly federal agencies, the legislation 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 sate 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.

Bills like HB1328 make part of a bigger strategy to put and end to government drone surveillance. Virginia led the way with its 2013 moratorium and appears set to take the next step. Each bill introduced, passed, and signed into law creates and builds momentum for other states to do the same.

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