LAWMAKERS at the state and local level are acting on good instincts that the public wants rules, limits and safeguards on the use of drones by government.
Legislation sponsored by Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, would protect Washington residents from warrantless aerial surveillance and set standards that determine which agencies can use the unmanned aircraft.
Local law-enforcement agencies would have to get permission from their city and county councils to purchase the equipment. State police and agencies would submit their requests to the state Legislature.
Law enforcement would need a search warrant to operate the drones for specific uses, except in narrowly defined emergency situations. Sections of the bill were revised to address pragmatic concerns and objections.
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Taylor’s legislation, HB 1771, has received broad bipartisan support and the endorsement of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. A Senate version of the bill went nowhere, but Taylor expects a Senate hearing if the House bill passes.
Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council is considering rules and regulations. Councilmembers Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell have introduced a bill that requires prior approval for any city agency to acquire drones, and sets out protocols for their use and data collected.
Efforts in Olympia and at City Hall are grounded in protecting constitutional rights and personal privacy. The potential abuse of these public unmanned aircraft is an issue, especially for a device that will be equipped with increasingly sophisticated technology.
Even the Federal Aviation Administration, which is looking for testing sites for drones, says privacy legislation must be accommodated in its plans.
Setting limits on the acquisition and use of drones by all manner of public agencies is an appropriate oversight role for government.
The ACLU of Washington reports some 30 other states are looking at similar legislation.
The rules set realistic guidelines and standards. Exactly what the public wants and expects.