Domestic Drone Use: Where Does Your State Stand?

A few years ago, if a drone was mentioned in the news, it was referring to a military drone being deployed overseas. And while their impersonal and deadly use globally is certainly a serious issue, drone use has now reached our own shores. Police departments are buying the unmanned aerial vehicles and lawmakers are rushing to pass laws controlling them. So, where does your state stand in regards to drone use?

drone2Many states have already passed or at least introduced legislation controlling the domestic use of drones for surveillance. Charlottesville, Virginia was the first city to restrict the use of the aircraft, despite the city not even owning a drone.

“To me, it’s Big Brother in the sky,” said Charlottesville city councilman Dave Norris. “I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial about it, but these drones are coming and we need to put some safeguards in place so they are not abused.”

He isn’t alone in his feelings. While speed cameras and license plate scanners were the biggest concerns of years past, drones take privacy issues to a whole new level.

Technically, the little devices could be used to spy on Americans, to gather intelligence, to produce heat maps, or to find missing people. And because there are few regulations  on them thus far, police agencies could be using this freedom to their advantage.

Following outrage in Seattle, police officials returned their two drones to the manufacturer.  Earlier this month, a bill was introduced in Washington D.C. to restrict drone use in “targeted surveillance” of people without a warrant.

So, why the sudden uptick in domestic drones? The federal government has made it easy for police to get them. They are providing money through the Department of Homeland Security that basically pays for the drones. In addition, the FAA is approving requests to fly drones left and right.

The ACLU reports on several states with legislation pending, and those who have already passed drone-regulating laws. According to their chart (which is being updated as laws are introduced), 29 states have either introduced legislation or passed it.

Already passed legislation includes a 2-year moratorium on drone deployment in Virginia, and a law that doesn’t apply to non-U.S. citizens in Arizona. You can see where your state  is in the drone debate here.

Despite the growing sense that we don’t have much privacy, we do have rights. And these rights include the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures as dictated in the 4th Amendment. It’s this right that could save you from conviction in a criminal case where the police obtained evidence against you in an unlawful manner.

About David Matson