A State Senate Wants Drone Use to Require a Warrant

In Connecticut the state senate thinks the Fourth-Amendment-type rules should apply to drone use.

Not every issue is cleared up by the Constitution. While the Fourth Amendment states that we should be secure in our persons, property, and effects, etc, it doesn’t limit government agents on public property. If I drive from my house to the grocery store, the Fourth Amendment doesn’t necessarily apply to a decision by a police officer to follow me for whatever reason.

That’s why drone use has been expanding. Obviously, planes are permitted to fly overhead. We can’t claim that areas over our property are also our personal property where no one else may enter without our permission.

But this does not mean we want our country to become like the turn-of-the-century TV show Dark Angel with hover drones constantly overhead watching everyone.

The place to make these rules is properly at the level of state legislatures. The state Senate in Connecticut has stepped up to meet its responsibility. As the Tenth Amendment Center reports, “Connecticut Bill Taking On Warrantless Drone Surveillance Unanimously Passes State Senate.”

A Connecticut bill that would drastically restrict the use of drones by state and local law enforcement and serve to thwart one aspect of the federal surveillance state unanimously passed the state Senate on Tuesday.

The House of Representatives Program Review and Investigations Committee introduced Senate Bill 974 (SB974) in February. The bill requires law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before deploying a drone with a few specific exceptions. It also bans the use of drones armed with a deadly weapon or tear gas.

SB974 passed the state Senate 36-0 on Tuesday and now moves on to the House for consideration.

Police would be able to operate a drone without a warrant if the subject of the information collected, or the property owner gives prior written permission; if the law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has occurred or will occur, and exigent circumstances exist making it impossible to get a warrant; if a law enforcement officer reasonably believes that there is an imminent threat to the life or safety of an individual; for training purposes; for search and rescue; or to reconstruct or document a crime scene.

Under the proposed law, if a drone collects information on an individual or property, and no probable cause exists to believe that an offense was committed by that individual or on that property, the law enforcement agency must destroy the information within 48 hours, or alter it to conceal the identity or location. This provision will prevent the creation of permanent data bases with information collected by drones.

Finally, the bill requires law enforcement agencies owning drones to register with the Office of Policy and Management and create a publicly available written policy dictating their operation.

To repeat: This is not strictly a Constitutional issue. Different states will probably decide on different rules to follow for drone use. But that’s what the state governments are for.

What is really important is that the Federal government not take over the states. According to the Tenth Amendment center, Federal money is already being used to encourage drone use and then to gather information through those drones through fusion centers “and a federal program known as the information sharing environment.”

Connecticut is about to throw a wrench in the Federal government’s plans for drone use. We need about 49 more wrench’s thrown in.