GOV. Jay Inslee should veto a well-intended but muddled piece of legislation to protect Washington residents from invasions of privacy by aerial technology better known as drones.
Engrossed House Bill 2789 is a collage of multiple bills, and it reads that way. No state agency or local law enforcement is using the technology, but the legislation lays out all manner of definitions, restrictions and exemptions.
Nothing in EHB 2789 addresses the use of drones by the private sector for business or recreation. Lawmakers narrowly focused instead on clamping down on government and law enforcement.
The new technology can certainly be feared as yet another potential invasion of privacy, even if that expectation of privacy is pretty thin in established law.
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Layers of verbiage describe allowable uses and timelines for retention or destruction of images and data. Use of drones by law enforcement would generally require a warrant, but not during emergencies.
Access to drone-gathered information is qualified and appears to evade public-records laws. But then a later sentence says nothing in the law is intended to expand or contract current obligations to disclose information.
No state agency or law-enforcement organization may purchase a drone without state lawmakers’ permission. The apparent fear is Olympia will use the drones to enforce state regulations, such as agricultural and environmental laws. More confusion.
If drones were used to survey a forest fire, the images might not be released if a camper were in view. Camera photos taken from a state helicopter are public record. Why the difference?
Prohibited information off-limits to a drone includes a person’s education, medical history, religion, tax returns and political ideology. This clause apparently anticipates the next generation of ESP drones.
The idea of drone legislation makes sense. Public safety and privacy issues are real.
Legal transparency — public access and disclosure — of information and images gathered by government must be sustained and protected.
Both the legislative and executive branches of government need time to look at the opportunities and hazards of drones. Weigh their potential against valid privacy concerns.
In the meantime, the governor should veto muddled legislation that does not help.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).