Domestic Drones Would Cause Major Rift Between Federal, State Governments

As at least 13 states look into restricting the use of drones over their skies, it is becoming increasingly clear that the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles, whether for good or bad, will prove to be a power struggle between the state and federal governments.

As of now, Illinois, Washington, Virginia,  Montana, California, Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, Florida, Maine, and Oklahoma are looking to restrict or regulate the use of drones over their respective skies, while also angering government agencies and law enforcement who insist that drones will be used for good, not bad.

Heeding to their constituents rightly placed concern over the privacy-threat that the usage of domestic drones could entail, Illinois law-makers are working to introduce legislature that would require the police to get a search warrant prior to using drones to gather evidence. Illinois Sen. Daniel Biss’ legislation would also ban the use of lethal and non-lethal weapons, unless in the case of emergencies, and would require that all information gathered via drone be destroyed unless it is being used in an investigation.

Last week, North Dakota also passed a similar bill which would also require a warrant for surveillance on people via drones. The legislation also outlines the drones’ usage: during an investigation of a felony crime or to monitor weather-related catastrophes. This specific legislation, unlike Illinois’ more ambiguous one, does not allow the use of weapons regardless of emergencies.

Washington state has also approved bipartisan legislation to limit drone use on Thursday, also limiting the use of drones to investigation only when a warrant is issued and in the case of emergencies such as wildfires and search and rescue.

Meanwhile, states such as Florida are looking to simply ban drones — refusing to water it down for investigation purposes despite the state’s law enforcer’s lobbying to allow drones for law-enforcement and crowd-controlling purposes.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joe Negron (R-Fla.), “We know something about crowds … We had a crowd back in the 1700s. It was called the Boston Tea Party. Can you imagine if King George had sent a drone to hover over the Boston Tea Party to see what the American patriots were up to?”

Virginia also passed a two-year moratorium on the use of drones, effectively banning them at least for the time being, with the only exceptions being cases of emergencies or missing children — a provision added mostly to placate the law-enforcement lobbyists.

Montana added a new spin, and rightfully so, that bans information collected by drones from being used in court.

On the flip-side, the Department of Homeland Security is advancing its plans to use surveillance drones, calling for the deployment of 30,000 drones by 2020.

Aside from the wide-reaching, Big-Brother-styled surveillance capabilities these drones — even the unarmed ones— possess, not only do they threaten civil rights and liberties, but they will also cause another major rift between state and the federal governments as both continue to push their agendas in opposite directions.