FARGO, N.D. — A freshman lawmaker from North Dakota is one of numerous state legislators across the country suggesting regulations to limit the use of unmanned planes for law enforcement, an effort that is gaining bipartisan support and fostering unlikely political alignments.
The bill proposed by Republican state Rep. Rick Becker stems from the 2011 arrest of a Lakota farmer during a 16-hour standoff, an event that sparked national debate. State courts held up law enforcement’s use of a drone to help a SWAT team apprehend Rodney Brossart, but Mr. Becker says there should be safeguards in place to make sure the practice isn’t abused.
Lawmakers plan to introduce similar bills in several states, and although Republicans are mostly leading the charge, the issue crosses party lines in Florida and brought together a tea party member from Virginia's General Assembly and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Mr. Becker insists he’s not out to hinder police; he says it’s a matter of privacy.
“It’s a new technology that has really amazing capabilities and can be used in excellent ways for our communities. I don’t want to say that drones can’t be used,” Mr. Becker said. “But with the new technology there are also issues, primarily privacy issues, which can come into play.”
The sheriff in Cass County, N.D., the state’s most populous county, says Mr. Becker’s proposal could set a troublesome precedent.
“Some people have this idea that these drones are some sneak-and-peek into their private lives,” said Sheriff Paul Laney, a former Red River Valley SWAT team commander and a member of a national board for crisis management on issues similar to the Brossart case. “It’s no different than a routine patrol when we drive by in a squad car on the road and look down the driveway. We are just doing it from a higher level.”
One part of Mr. Becker’s proposal would require a warrant when drones are used as a part of a criminal investigation. Mr. Brossart’s attorney, Bruce Quick of Fargo, said a warrant was not obtained for drone use.
State Rep. Al Carlson, the Republican House majority leader from Fargo, said Mr. Becker’s proposal warrants serious discussion.
“Obviously, invasion of privacy is always important to North Dakotans,” Mr. Carlson said. “I think it’s a good debate to have and I look forward to hearing it.”
Similar legislation will be proposed in many states this legislative session, including California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Missouri, Michigan and Indiana. In Virginia, the ACLU/tea party-backed measure is expected to be unveiled this session.
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