Utah Legislature Sends Drone Surveillance Nullifying Bill to Governor

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
Utah Legislature Sends Drone Surveillance Nullifying Bill to Governor

Both houses of the Utah state legislature have passed a bill that would severely restrict the use of drones by law enforcement.

Among the several bills passed by the Utah state legislature as it wrapped up its annual session, one protects citizens of the Beehive State from warrantless drone surveillance.

On March 13, the Utah State House of Representatives joined their colleagues in the other chamber and passed SB 167, the Government Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Act, by a vote of 67-5 (3 members did not vote).

The measure was introduced in January by State Senator Howard Stephenson and includes promising protections of fundamental civil liberties.

For example, the bill explicitly prevents data obtained from an unmanned vehicle from being admissible in court unless the data was obtained pursuant to a warrant or some judicially permitted exception to warrant requirements.

Additionally, any information obtained by a drone may not be used as part of the affidavit required to obtain a warrant.

As an added precaution against the violation of freedom from unwarranted search and seizure, the bill requires that any data incidentally obtained by a drone of a "person, structure, or area" that isn't a legal target of the surveillance must be destroyed "as soon as is reasonably possible" by the state agency that collected the data. There are a few exceptions to this requirement, notably if the collection of data by drone includes evidence of a crime in progress or an emergency situation.

Another important provision mandates that the state government publish a report disclosing the number of times law enforcement deployed a drone, the number of criminal investigations aided by the use of a drone, a description of how the drone was used in the investigation, and the frequency and type of data gathered by the drone.

The bill also requires the state to report to the public how many times an agency other than law enforcement used a drone.

Click here to read the entire article.

Photo: Utah State Capitol Building

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