Bill introduced to establish common sense guidelines involving drones

Senator Sean Nienow
District 32

As I write this column, the legislature is wrapping up hearings on Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal. We continue to review the Governor’s budget while awaiting the final budget forecast due out in late February.

In the meantime, other policy measures are being introduced and discussed. Recently I introduced a bill in the Minnesota Senate that pertains to the use of drones, unmanned aircraft, in Minnesota. This proposed legislation prompted much media interest and as such is the topic of my commentary this week.

With the introduction of Senate File 485, Minnesota joins at least 18 other states in being proactive about establishing common sense guidelines in the use of a technology that is about to vastly expand in the United States.

In fact, Congress passed a law that requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow drones wide access to U.S. airspace by 2015 and the Federal Aviation Administration predicts over 10,000 drones will be in use within the next five years. Clearly, given these projections, it is prudent that Minnesota establish individual privacy protection guidelines.

The FAA has solicited proposals for six sites to test this new “eye in the sky” technology. These test sites are aimed at potential problems such as in air collisions, damage to people or property, and the potential for drones to be “hijacked” causing the operator to lose control of the aircraft. The FAA has posted a draft plan for protecting people’s privacy online which would require each test site to follow federal and state laws and make a privacy policy publicly available, according to an article in the Washington Guardian. Given the new drone technology, it is time Minnesota begins this discussion and ensures that any guidelines established reflect the will of the people and the State of Minnesota. My bill aims to begin that discussion.

Drones are already here and they provide opportunities to benefit the public when used properly and with respect to our civil liberties and Fourth Amendment rights. The FAA reports that it has issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007. While it is anticipated that local and state law enforcement will be the largest drone users, as supply and demand expand and prices go down the potential is certainly there for other people to use drones. Already, state transportation departments and universities are using drones.

This bill would prohibit the use of drones for gathering evidence or information on individuals except for high risk incidences or after obtaining a warrant. The bill provides civil remedies should an individual’s rights be violated in this manner.

We are increasingly becoming a “surveillance society” where Big Brother is using cameras to watch the activities of average citizens. States have an obligation to be proactive in ensuring protections are in place before problems arise. That is just common sense.