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Oklahoma Bill to End Warrantless Drone Spying, Hinder some Federal Surveillance Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 10,  2016) – An Oklahoma bill that would significantly limit drone surveillance in the state, and also serve to thwart one aspect of the federal surveillance state, passed the House on Tuesday.

Rep. Paul Wesselhoft introduced House Bill 2337 (HB2337), titled the Oklahoma Unmanned Aerial Surveillance Act. The bill requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before conducting drone surveillance in most cases. It also includes an outright prohibition on the use of weaponized drones except for the military.

The bill passed the House by a 56-40 margin.

Passage through the House represnets a significant step. Similar bills have failed over the past several years.

The legislation creates a few exceptions to the warrant requirement. The bill allows drones for use in “non-law-enforcement Operations,” provided that “no part of any information and no evidence derived from the operation may be received as evidence in any trial, hearing or other proceeding in or before any court, grand jury, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, legislative committee, or other authority of the state or a political subdivision of the state or for any intelligence purpose.

HB2337 also allows warrantless drone use in an emergency situation where there exists immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to any person, or a threat to national security.

The legislation specifically prohibits facial recognition nor other biometric matching technology on nontarget data collected by an unmanned aerial vehicle.

Finally, the legislation stipulates record keeping requirements for agencies deploying drones.

Impact on the Federal Surveillance State

Although HB2337 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 HB2337 make part of a bigger strategy to put an end to government drone surveillance. Virginia led the way with its 2013 moratorium recently took the next step implementing permanent limits on drone surveillance. Each bill introduced, passed, and signed into law creates and builds momentum for other states to do the same.


HB2337 will now move on to the Senate for further consideration.