While drones have been used overseas by the U.S. military for years, the technology seems to be on its way towards domestic use.
Among others, police departments in Arkansas, Colorado, and North Dakota have all purchased unmanned aerial vehicles – commonly called drones – for surveillance purposes. Lawmakers in Vermont have noticed this trend, and they don’t like what they see.
In response, Vermont legislators are preparing a law that would place restrictions on how state officials would be allowed to use drones.
The legislation would forbid surveillance drone use without a search warrant, with emergency situations being the only exception. In cases where “an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to any person” existed, police forces would have 48 hours after drone use to obtain a retroactive warrant.
The legislation, titled HB540, would forbid the use of facial recognition technology on all people except for targets. HB540 would also require strict reporting of drone use.
“It’s technology. It’s valueless. It’s all how it’s used,” said Vermont’s American Civil Liberties Union director Allen Gilbert. “Technology can be used for good things and bad things, and what the bill is trying to do is make sure that drones are not misused by police.”
State Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield) says HB540 is about avoiding future problems by preparing for the ahead of time.
“It isn’t often we can see a potential problem in advance,” she said. “So, when we know there’s something likely to evolve, it’s a good time to intervene rather than stepping in after the fact.”
Another state Rep., Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg), says law enforcement surveillance post 9/11 has “pushed the limits of privacy.” Lippert warned that unless legislators act on behalf of citizens to curb law enforcement surveillance “we face the possibility that our privacy rights will erode until the point that they are hard to get back.”
Adding to the crowd of legislators speaking in support of the bill, State Rep. David Deen says excessive surveillance goes against the Vermont way of life. “This is Vermont,” he said. “You live and let live. You don’t spy.”
It’s no surprise the bill is receiving such high levels of bi-partisan support. The drones can still be used in any criminal or emergency situations; they just won’t be flying overhead surveying average citizens unnecessarily.