Drone Bills Heard in House and Senate Committees

February 24, 2020

The bills would require a search warrant before law enforcement use of a drone.

Note: There is updated information on this topic. Read the latest article.

Bills that would require a search warrant before law enforcement officers could use a drone (also called an unmanned aerial vehicle) were heard on Feb. 18 by the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

The bills — HF 3009 (Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul) and SF 3074 (Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove) — were both passed out of committee and sent to their respective floors to be voted on by the entire body.

A drone bill was introduced in 2019 but was not passed into law. The language in the new bill was agreed upon by stakeholders, including the ACLU and law enforcement, during meetings held before the 2020 legislative session started.

Exceptions

While the proposal would generally require a search warrant before using a drone, a warrant is not required if a drone is used:

  • During or in the aftermath of an emergency situation that involves the risk of death or bodily harm to a person.
  • Over a public event where there is heightened risk to the safety of participants or bystanders.
  • To counter the risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization.
  • To prevent the loss of life and property in natural or man-made disasters and to facilitate post-recovery efforts.
  • To conduct a threat assessment.
  • To collect information over a public area if there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
  • For crash-reconstruction purposes.
  • Over a public area for officer training or public relations purposes.
  • For a non-law-enforcement purpose at the request of a government entity.

Data provisions

Drone data would generally be classified as private or nonpublic data. This data would be required to be destroyed in seven days unless it is active criminal investigative data.

The proposed legislation also regulates the use, storage, and disclosure of data gathered; provides for a civil action for those aggrieved by violations of this law; and requires reporting.

Amendment adopted in Senate

In addition to the bill as described, the Senate committee adopted an amendment that requires a public hearing at the city council before the law enforcement agency acquires a drone. It also requires that proposed policies be made available for public comment.

The House committee adopted the bill as described. The committee discussed adopting a floor amendment that would include audit trails and reporting, but no specific language was proposed.