Montana, other states look at limiting use of drones by police

2013-02-05T21:45:00Z 2013-08-04T08:38:55Z Montana, other states look at limiting use of drones by policeThe Associated Press The Associated Press
February 05, 2013 9:45 pm  • 

HELENA – Lawmakers in at least 11 states are looking at plans to restrict the use of drones over their skies amid concerns the unmanned aerial vehicles could be exploited to spy on Americans.

The American Civil Liberties Union says state legislators are proposing various restrictions on local authorities’ use of the technology.

Concerns mounted after the Federal Aviation Administration began establishing safety standards for civilian drones, which are becoming increasingly affordable and small in size.

Some police agencies have said the drones could be used for surveillance of suspects, search and rescue operations, and gathering details on damage caused by natural disasters.

In Montana, a libertarian-minded state that doesn’t even let police use remote cameras to issue traffic tickets, Democrats and Republicans are banding together to back multiple proposals restricting drone use. They say drones, most often associated with overseas wars, aren’t welcome in Big Sky Country.

“I do not think our citizens would want cameras to fly overhead and collect data on our lives,” Republican state Sen. Matthew Rosendale told a legislative panel on Tuesday.

Rosendale is sponsoring a measure that would only let law enforcement use drones with a search warrant, and would make it illegal for private citizens to spy on neighbors with drones.

The full Montana Senate endorsed a somewhat broader measure Tuesday that bans information collected by drones from being used in court. It also would bar local and state government ownership of drones equipped with weapons, such as stunning devices.

The ACLU said the states won’t be able to stop federal agencies or border agents from using drones. But the Montana ban would not allow local police to use criminal information collected by federal drones that may be handed over in cooperative investigations.

The drones could be wrongly used to hover over someone’s property and gather information, opponents said.

“The use of drones across the country has become a great threat to our personal privacy,” said ACLU of Montana policy director Niki Zupanic. “The door is wide open for intrusions into our personal private space.”

Other state legislatures looking at the issue include California, Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, Virginia, Maine and Oklahoma.

A Missouri House committee looked at a bill Tuesday that would outlaw the use of unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance on individuals or property, providing an exclusion for police working with a search warrant. It drew support from agricultural groups and civil liberties advocates.

“It’s important for us to prevent Missouri from sliding into a police-type state,” said Republican Rep. Casey Guernsey of Bethany.

A North Dakota lawmaker introduced a similar bill in January following the 2011 arrest of a Lakota farmer during a 16-hour standoff with police. A drone was used to help a SWAT team apprehend Rodney Brossart.

Its use was upheld by state courts, but the sponsor of the North Dakota bill, Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck, said safeguards should be put into place to make sure the practice isn’t abused.

Last year, Seattle police received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to train people to operate drones for use in investigations, search-and-rescue operations and natural disasters. Residents and the ACLU called on city officials to tightly regulate the information that can be collected by drones, which are not in use yet.

In Alameda County, Calif., the sheriff’s office faced backlash late last year after announcing plans to use drones to help find fugitives and assist with search and rescue operations.

David A. Lieb contributed to this report from Jefferson City, Mo.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. Stillmike Miller
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    Stillmike Miller - February 10, 2013 9:52 pm
    Drones have been authorized and used by our great Department of Homeland Security in partnership with local law enforcement to spy and prosecute a farmer in ND this past summer/fall. Over cows that wandered on to his property. I'm not making this up. Wake up, People!
  2. Drone Pilot
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    Drone Pilot - February 07, 2013 8:14 am
    Sukey, the point I make is that anyone with any kind of aircraft or satellite can see into your back yard. When I was in the military, we actually did look at name tags when training new people on the use of equipment. No, we didn't care about people in their back yards, but then, neither does anyone using a drone.

    There are several different types of drones, not all of them have military and law enforcement applications. However, law enforcement applications include more than just looking in someone's back yard. They can provide a much better situational awareness at a scene and increase the safety of the officers.

    It's obvious, to me, that you and the majority of others in this discussion have not done their homework on the subject. If you look around the world, you can see how these small aircraft are changing lives by improving agriculture, mitigating poaching, managing wildlife, and so much more. We're not talking about the military drones like the Reaper or the Global Scan, we're talking about a small aircraft that any farmer or rancher can own and operate.

    The legislation being looked at is too broad and doesn't differentiate between them. Please get some education on the subject before you call for disallowing something that can have such a positive impact on society.
  3. gomer13
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    gomer13 - February 06, 2013 8:31 pm
    I have yet to develop an opinion on the use of drones overseas against Americans participating in terrorism, and I oppose using them at home against our own people. I do however think it is laughable that the same liberal crowd that thinks its okay, now that Obama is on board with the idea, was throwing fits during the Bush years when it was happening.
  4. Dub
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    Dub - February 06, 2013 3:54 pm
    Keep the drones out of Montana! Our legislature needs to go on record with a bill to prohibit the enactment of any bill to restrict our 2nd Amendment rights also.
  5. Dustin Gliko
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    Dustin Gliko - February 06, 2013 10:20 am
    Any amount of tax dollars we can keep out of the hands of those who manufacture the means of perpetual profit from war will be beneficial to the forward movement of our society.

    Let us not forget the profit from having an exorbitant amount of our population incarcerated.

    Who are these people who are profiting from manipulating the sheep with fear?

    When are we going to hold the "Greedy Profiteers" accountable for their "Theft" from generations of "The People" who have "Earned" the Life, Liberty, and Happiness sitting in the pocketbooks and on the mantlepieces of the "Elite"?


    Dustin Gliko
  6. Sukey
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    Sukey - February 06, 2013 8:51 am
    Nonsense comment mixing apples and oranges. No one is going to manipulate a satellite to see what people are doing in their backyard and "read their nametag". They may have used them before drones to actively watch terrorist camps but they were not watching old ladies water their flowers in their backyards. Can you spell privacy invasion? The comment by drone pilot brings it down so that everyone that has a cow needs their own drones. Horse feathers.
  7. Drone Pilot
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    Drone Pilot - February 06, 2013 7:58 am
    Since the late 70's, satellites have been able to read a name tag on a person's shirt. I know this from my military work where I held a security clearance a couple levels above top secret. Being able to look in your back yard is nothing new! When I fly over in a Cessna, I can see in your back yard.

    Next, drones provide a lot of great data for farmers that can improve yields and help to conserve water. The data they collect can help save the farmer money on the front end, and bring more in on the back end. They're very useful for livestock management, especially on these large Montana ranches. A lost animal is much easier to find. Fence lines can also be surveyed in much less time and with much less effort.

    Drones can be a life saver in search and rescue missions. What normally takes hours or days, can be done in much less time with fewer resources and expense.

    Before you speak out on any subject, get educated. Drones of the type we develop will positively impact our society. We don't care what you do in your back yard, we're on a mission to improve people's lives.
  8. Sukey
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    Sukey - February 06, 2013 2:35 am
    I agree that Montana should not have drones overhead collecting evidence on us. I find it annoying to have FWP helicopters over my property looking for game during the spring baby elk count (or whatever they're doing to those animals as they terrorize them). I find it annoying to be out watering my garden and have low flying private planes buzzing over me. I like my privacy.
  9. OhMT
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    OhMT - February 05, 2013 2:52 pm
    To think that drone surveillance on civilians cannot happen in Montana is a big mistake. The Seattle Police Department, which has a horrible civil rights track record, is already pushing to implement drones. Jobs and a sound economy are important, but freedom is MORE important!
  10. Fenwoody
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    Fenwoody - February 05, 2013 1:59 pm
    Please don't forget about the "black stealth" helicopters that spy overhead at night? Wouldn't it be refreshing if our legislators went back and read their own campaign literature and speeches, and refocused their efforts on Montana jobs and our economy, like they promised. There doesn't seem to be any public outcry to pay our legislators in gold or silver, designate an official state rifle, begin public spankings of criminals, or restrict the imaginary drone spy-in-the-sky that trails our vehicles as we drive home at night after work.
  11. Twocents
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    Twocents - February 05, 2013 1:45 pm
    Glad they've solved the state's problems so they can finally get around to the real problems like stopping the Stevensville police department from running their drone assassination missions.
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