Drone bill balances privacy, law enforcement power police

John Huffman /


Published Apr 14, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

In a free society such as ours, citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy — and they should, as those rights have always been guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The rapid advances of the past few years have led to the discoveries of all kinds of new technologies, some of which have caused citizens to become concerned about potential threats to their privacy.

Those concerns are part of what prompted me to sponsor House Bill 2710. That bill requires public bodies that use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), otherwise known as drones, to adopt policies on their use and requires a procedure for notifying the public on those policies. Since their introduction, UAVs have arguably become a useful tool for our military as it continues to engage in a global war on terrorism. Law enforcement agencies have also found that UAVs can be vital in search-and-rescue and other operations.

All of these factors have people wondering what these developments mean for their civil rights. But it isn’t just government agencies that are utilizing this technology. Agricultural interests in Oregon are finding legitimate uses for it. The industry that is developing this technology is also growing rapidly, with ample research and development opportunities starting to emerge. Because of the potential benefits, I’ve tried to find a balance in the legislative process between allowing those kinds of uses while making sure that government agencies cannot use UAVs for purposes that are contrary to our rights as American citizens.

I’ve worked with industry, agricultural interests, civil liberties groups, law enforcement, public safety and economic development entities to try and find that balance. I understand that people are very mindful and protective of their Constitutionally-based guarantees of privacy, due process and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Under HB 2710, law enforcement agencies may use a UAV for surveillance only if a warrant is issued authorizing its use, the use is within a geographically confined area, a time-limited situation in which there is risk of serious physical harm to an individual, and the use is thoroughly documented by the agency.

It also limits operation of the UAV by law enforcement to collection of information about the target person for which the use is authorized. Further, law enforcement must avoid collection of information on other persons, residences or places.

Images or other information acquired through the use of a drone by a law enforcement agency must be destroyed within 30 days, unless the information is needed as evidence in a criminal prosecution.

In a drafted amendment to HB 2710, law enforcement would have the ability to take captured images of a crime, captured during a separate lawful use of the drone, to a judge to determine if exigent circumstances exist to get a warrant based on the information collected.

HB 2710 states that any public body using UAVs must adopt policies for their use that establish training requirements for operators and criteria for when they are used, along with a procedure for informing the public of the agency’s policies. Information gathered could not be shared with other government agencies or government sub-divisions.

My hope is that by considering the input of all the various stakeholders involved with this issue, we have been able to develop a bill that maintains our protection under the law, while ensuring that industries vital to our area continue to grow and thrive.

Please feel free to contact my capitol office at 503-986-1459 if you have any comments or concerns regarding this bill. I am honored to continue to serve you in the Oregon House of Representatives.