A bill to restrict the use of unmanned aircraft and the information gathered by them gets its hearing in House Judiciary at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Senate Bill 196, sponsored by Sen. Matt Rosendale (R-Glendive) takes many of the rules that apply to trespass, surveillance of private property, and searches and applyies them to drones. SB 196 would generally prohibit any person or state or local law enforcement agency from using a drone for data collection over private property without a search warrant, exigent circumstances, or the consent of the landowner. Any information collected by using a drone without a warrant or consent would not be admissible in court or as the basis for obtaining a search warrant. These are the kinds of guidelines included in the ACLU's report "Protecting Privacy from Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft."

We fully support this bill.

Some may say there is no need for such a law, that drones aren't being used. Our answer to that is "yet."
In the past, the expense of purchasing, operating, and maintaining aerial vehicles created a natural barrier to the use of drones and other surveillance aircraft. But as prices for the technology go down, interest from local law enforcement and private companies is skyrocketing.

And while there are some reasonable uses for unmanned aircraft, like assessing a situation before sending police officers into a dangerous area and looking for people in burning buildings, there is a lot of temptation to use them for unconstitutional purposes like warrantless spying.

We'd prefer to head off such problems in Montana before they happen.

Also up Thursday:
Senate Judiciary Committee 9 a.m., Room 305 

  • HB 522 Prohibit state cooperation with federal officials regarding indefinite detention

Hearings and floor sessions can be accessed online.