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Wyoming Bill Would Block Most Warrantless Drone Surveillance

A bill has been prefiled for the 2015 legislative year in the Wyoming state house to restrict the use of drones by government officials.

Sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee, House Bill 0018 (HB0018) will be officially introduced during next year’s legislative session. It states that “No information acquired or derived through the use of a drone by a governmental entity shall be admissible in any judicial or administrative proceeding unless the governmental entity collected the information in a manner permitted by a law enforcement agency” unless certain requirements are met.

Those requirements include: a lawful warrant, probable cause to believe a felony is being committed with “exigent circumstances [that] make it unreasonable for the agency to obtain a warrant authorizing use of the drone,” and when the “use of a drone is likely to assist in the prevention of the felony.”

Other requirements include when it is determined that “there is an imminent threat to the life or safety of a person.” Drones are also permitted for search and rescue operations, during state of emergencies, during “crime scene or accident reconstruction or assessment of a specific crime scene,” and for training purposes.

The bill also creates annual reporting standards that would make available to the public the number of times drones were used by law enforcement, what purposes they were used for, the overall cost to the taxpayer, and what data was collected.

While HB0018 does allow for the specified use of drones by government officials in the state of Wyoming, it is certainly a step in the right direction toward limiting a rapidly developing technology that could potentially be devastating to the 4th Amendment.

The ACLU has weighed in on the issue on a national level, warning that “unregulated drone use could pose serious threats to our privacy.”

Tenth Amendment Center national communications director Mike Maharrey noted that Wyoming 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.”

Bills were signed into law in 2013 in Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

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.”

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