Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper played a movie clip from the movie version of George Orwell's 1984 to give committee members a glimpse of the terrors of a surveillance state. But it wasn't just fears of a dystopian future that helped convince committee members to pass his bill regulating the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by law enforcement. Drone critics testified to the committee that in the present day drone technology is more insidious than Orwell ever could have imagined with drones already in existence that are equipped with cameras and can pass themselves off as hummingbirds.
Stephenson pitched his Senate Bill 167 to the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee as a measure meant to allow drones to still be a tool for law enforcement but ones constrained by important privacy considerations.
“Routine aerial surveillance would profoundly change the character of public life in America,” Stephenson said. “We believe rules must be put in place to enjoy the benefits of this new technology while not bringing us closer to a surveillance society.”
Stephenson pointed out that currently drones have enormous potential in being able to survey from the air accident scenes or assist in manhunts in ways that are cheaper than using helicopters and safer for the public and law enforcement. But the potential for abuse is also there and that's why Stephenson wanted to keep the laws ahead of the technology to regulate drones now while their use is still emergent.
To that end his bill would require that law enforcement obtain a warrant backed by probable cause in order to use drones, or obtain or receive any information from drones. The bill would also require law enforcement agencies to report their uses of drones, the costs associated and statistics on investigations aided by the technology annually to the Utah Department of Public Safety who would make the information available to the public.
While the bill was supported by civil-liberty advocates who pointed out the rapidly expanded innovations in the product and its use by law enforcement, perhaps one of the biggest supporting endorsements of Stephenson's bill came from Colonel Keith Squires, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety.
“There are such great applications for this technology but in my position, I also consider myself to be a careful steward of our Fourth Amendment rights so I appreciate this legislation and the guidelines it provides for law enforcement,” Squires testified.
With no sentient machines traveling back in time from an apocalyptic future to object, there was no opposition to the bill and it passed favorably out of the committee by a unanimous vote, and now heads to the Senate floor for further debate.
To read SB 167 click here. To contact Sen. Stephenson about the bill click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this bill click here. For more updates from the hill visit CityWeekly.net and follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter.