HONOLULU, Hawaii (Jan. 28, 2016) – A bill introduced in the Hawaii Senate would restrict the warrantless use of drones by state and local law enforcement. The legislation would not only establish important privacy protections at the state level, it would also help thwart the federal surveillance state.
A coalition of five Democratic senators introduced Senate Bill 2172 (SB2172) on Jan. 22. The legislation would prohibit state and local law enforcement from to gathering evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct without obtaining a warrant in most cases.
The bill allows a few exceptions to the warrant requirement. Police could deploy drones with a reasonable belief that an emergency situation exists and the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle is necessary to prevent immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to any person. Law enforcement would also be able to use drones without a warrant during a hostage situation, for search and rescue operations and for training purposes.
SB2172 includes a blanket prohibition on weaponized drones.
Impact on the Federal Surveillance State
Although the proposed bills focus exclusively on state and local drone use and does not apply directly to federal agencies, it throws a high hurdle in front of some federal programs.
Much of the funding for drones at the state and local level comes from the federal government, in and of itself a constitutional violation. In return, federal agencies tap into the information gathered by state and local law enforcement through fusion centers and a federal program known as the Information Sharing Environment.
According to its website (archived link), the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators… have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant.
The federal government encourages and funds a network of drones at the state and local level across the U.S., thereby gaining access to a massive data pool on Americans without having to expend the resources to collect the information itself. By placing restrictions on drone use, state and local governments limit the data available that the feds can access.
In a nutshell, without state and local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. This represents a major blow to the surveillance state and a win for privacy.