RI Bill Seeks to Regulate Use of Drone Technology
Wednesday, February 05, 2014
“People last year were taken off guard by this,” she said.
“It was way too ‘science fiction.’ Now it’s rapidly coming to people’s understanding of how accessible this technology is. Law enforcement agencies in other parts of the country are already using drone technology, and it’s only a matter of time before many agencies in Rhode Island are, too.”
Technology available in toy stores
Last year’s “60 Minutes” piece about Amazon.com testing a drone delivery system woke most Americans up to the reality of drone technology. Most toy stores now sell radio-controlled helicopters with video cameras attached for around $30.
They’re easy to fly and take surprisingly good video and still shots. Those willing to drop around $500 can order a radio-controlled Blade Quadcopter with GPS and a GoPro HD digital camera.
Supporters of the drone legislation reason that if this technology is so easily acquired and used by the public, law enforcement may not be far behind.
“We ought to establish the ground rules proactively, because without limits, we’re leaving the door open to the potential for serious invasions of privacy,” Rep. Tanzi said.
Drone usage would follow wiretapping regulations
The legislation (2014-H 7170) would require public hearings before law enforcement agencies could acquire drones, as well as assent from the applicable city or town council for municipal departments and the governor for state agencies. If permitted, drone usage would follow existing regulations for wiretapping a phone. Each individual use of a drone by a law-enforcement agency for investigation of criminal or civil matters or for any intelligence-gathering purpose would require the involvement of the attorney general’s office, which would have to get approval from Superior Court on the agency’s behalf.
The bill is one of many that are cropping up around the country as drone technology becomes more accessible.
Recently, Utah Senator Howard Stephenson introduced Senate Bill 167, a measure to establish “provisions for the appropriate use of unmanned aerial vehicles by government entities.” The bill explicitly forbids state agents from operating a drone, except in a lengthy list of exceptional situations that includes emergency and instances of consent.
ACLU supports bill
Here in Rhode Island, the bill is getting early support from the ACLU.
“We strongly support this legislation. We think it’s truly critical to have safeguards in place before police start purchasing and using these intrusive devices. It’s only a matter of time,” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the Rhode Island ACLU.
“The really good thing about the bill is that it’s something that should feel very comfortable to law enforcement. Most of it [the bill] is taken directly from the state’s wiretaps law. The procedures are ones that law enforcement has been using for decades.”
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