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West Virginia Senate Votes to Limit Warrantless Drone Surveillance

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. (March 1, 2017) – A West Virginia bill that would require police to get a warrant before engaging in drone surveillance in most situations passed the Senate today.

Sen. Charles Trump (R-Berkeley Springs) introduced Senate Bill 9 (SB9) on Feb. 8. The legislation would require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before conducting surveillance, gathering evidence or collecting information on targeted persons or specifically targeted private property.

SB9 includes provisions limiting retention of data gathered by drones.

“The law-enforcement agency shall not retain any imagery or other data obtained during a flight which does not contain evidence of a crime or is otherwise reasonably related to an agency criminal investigation for purposes other than training for more than ninety days.”

The legislation would also prohibit any person from arming a drone with a lethal weapon. This would theoretically allow police to arm drones with non-lethal weapons.

SB9 would allow warrantless drone use for an emergency response, for public safety purposes, or search and rescue purposes.

The Senate passed SB9 by a 23-9 vote.

Impact on the Federal Surveillance State

Although the proposed law would only apply to state and local drone use, 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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SB9 will now move over to the House for further consideration.