Domestic drones are a serious threat to Americans' privacy, so we are pleased that they are getting serious attention in the Montana Legislature this session.
Lawmakers have introduced three bills on the issue, including one which we helped Sen. Matt Rosendale (R-Glendive) draft legislation to limit their use.
SB 196 had its hearing on Tuesday -- the same day that a federal document on the use of drones to kill Americans overseas was leaked to NBC News. The ACLU of Montana is working hard to get SB 196 passed.
Unmanned aircraft are powerful spy tools, and Americans should be very wary of police, federal authorities and private companies using drones to monitor our activity. Some are even small enough to be flown inside buildings.
Wanna learn a little more about how unmanned aerial vehicles work and how creepy they are? Check out this Time article.
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. That's why states across the country are looking at regulating their use.
SB 196 takes a logical approach to the issue by taking many of the rules that apply to trespass, surveillance of private property, and searches and applying 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."
This is common sense, folks. We don't want or need spies in the skies watching our every move.