MNGOPers introduce anti-drone legislation

Hall (left), Nienow, and Chamberlain (right) seek to limit the circumstances under which law enforcement can legally use drones.
Hall (left), Nienow, and Chamberlain (right) seek to limit the circumstances under which law enforcement can legally use drones.

Three Republican senators want to curb law enforcement agencies' power to use drones without warrants.

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A bill introduced by Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, and Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, would "prohibit law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather evidence in certain circumstances," though the range of "certain circumstances" under which drones are permissible is fairly broad.

Evidence unlawfully gathered by drones would be impermissible in court, and victims of unlawful drone usage would be entitled to civil compensation.

The anti-drone bill comes as a dozen other states contemplate similar drone-curbing measures, and just under a year after Grand Forks police began regularly using drones for search and rescue, crime scene and traffic photography, and intelligence-gathering during standoff situations.

From the Nienow/Chamberlain/Hall bill:

Exceptions. This section does not prohibit the use of a drone:
(1) to counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security determines that credible intelligence indicates that there is this risk;
(2) if the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant authorizing its use; or
(3) if the law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, or to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence.
Subd. 4. Remedies for violation. A person aggrieved by a law enforcement agency's violation of this section may bring a civil action against the agency.
Subd. 5. Prohibition on use of evidence. Evidence obtained or collected in violation of this section is not admissible in a criminal prosecution in this state.

We admire the spirit of the bill, but are troubled by broadness of the third exception. For instance, consider a situation where authorities want to use a drone to check out whether a person is growing marijuana in their backyard. Couldn't such a use be justified under the "forestall the destruction of evidence" clause? But assuming authorities didn't have enough evidence to obtain a warrant before sending their drone skyward, that seems to be just the sort of drone use the bill is intended to prevent.

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