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    Update: Idaho Joins States Restricting Use of Drones by Police

    To recap: In the last year, there has been increasing focus on the issue of domestic use of aerial drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, “UAVs”) to conduct surveillance. Months ago, Congress approved the FAA reauthorization bill, which includes a provision to integrate the use of aerial surveillance by drones in the United States by 2015. In July, drone makers sought to answer concerns by releasing voluntary guidelines, but privacy questions remain. Also, there are security questions, as well, as a recent drone “hijacking” proves. First, the voluntary code of conduct, which is not legally binding on the companies that agree to abide by the guidelines. The code states, “We will respect the privacy of individuals.” There are no details on how individuals’ privacy will be respected. In September, the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted a code of conduct (pdf) for the use of drones in the United States for surveillance of the public. However, although the document has statements such as “Unauthorized use of a UA will result in strict accountability,” there is no information about what such accountability means. Recently, the Government Accountability Office released a report, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Measuring Progress and Addressing Potential Privacy Concerns Would Facilitate Integration into the National Airspace System,” (archive pdf). The report recommended that the government address privacy issues with the domestic use of drones.

    Recently, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn decided to scrap the plan for police to use surveillance drones. In a short statement, he said: “Today I spoke with Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and we agreed that it was time to end the unmanned aerial vehicle program, so that SPD can focus its resources on public safety and the community building work that is the department’s priority. The vehicles will be returned to the vendor.” Read more about this in theSeattle Times, “Seattle grounds police drone program.”

    Also recently, Charlottesville, Va., became the first city in the United States to pass legislation against the domestic use of drones. U.S. News and World Report says: “The resolution, passed Monday, ‘calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court,’ and ‘pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones.’” (For more on legislation in the states concerning drones, read a recent op-ed in Slate by the ACLU. There’s also a roundup of domestic drone legislation in the states at the ACLU’s Free Future blog.)

    Now, Idaho has passed a law, SB 1134, that would restrict the use of UAVs by law enforcement officials. Reuters reports: 

    Idaho’s Republican governor signed a law on Thursday that restricts use of drone aircraft by police and other public agencies as the use of pilotless aircraft inside U.S. borders is increasing. The measure aims to protect privacy rights.

    In approving the law, which requires law enforcement to obtain warrants to collect evidence using drones in most cases, Idaho becomes the second U.S. state after Virginia to restrict uses of pilotless aircraft over privacy concerns. […]

    Current federal regulations sharply limit the number and types of drones that can fly in American airspace to just a few dozen law enforcement agencies, including one in Idaho, public agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and universities for scientific research.

    But unmanned aircraft are expected to be widely permitted in coming years, raising fears about misuse of miniature devices that can carry cameras which capture video and still images by day and by night.

    Lawmakers in Idaho and more than a dozen states this year introduced legislation to safeguard privacy in the face of an emerging market the unmanned aerial vehicle industry forecasts will drive $89 billion in worldwide expenditures over the next decade.

    The measure Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed into law on Thursday requires police to obtain warrants to use drones to collect evidence about suspected criminal activity unless it involves illegal drugs or unless the unmanned aircraft is being used for public emergencies or search-and-rescue missions.

    The Idaho bill, approved last week by the state Senate and the state House of Representatives, also bans authorities, or anyone else, from using drones to conduct surveillance on people or their property, including agricultural operations, without written consent.

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