Last spring, landmark legislation was introduced to help protect North Carolina’s citizens from the intrusion of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as “drones.” HB312 — the Preserving Privacy Act of 2013 — would prohibit government agencies from the warrantless use of surveillance drones while recognizing the value of this emerging technology for use in fighting crime and aiding rescue missions. The LRC Study Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems had its first meeting this afternoon to discuss this drone technology and the status of federal and state laws governing them (click here for the presentation prepared by the state’s Chief Information Officer for the committee). Kirk Ross of Carolina Public Press has an excellent report on the proceedings.
Co-sponsored by a bipartisan host of legislators including Representative McGrady, HB312 calls for specific penalties for violation of the law and provides certain remedies to plaintiffs in cases where rights and individual liberties have been violated. The proposed law creates the right to sue and prohibits the use of evidence gathered by drones without a warrant in any resulting criminal proceeding.
HB312 allows for drones to be used in conducting a search when a warrant has been obtained and in emergency cases where police have determined that a crime is underway involving the 1) immediate danger to life, 2) serious damage to property, 3) the escape of a suspect, or 4) the imminent destruction of criminal evidence. In every case where an exception is allowed, the use of the drone by law enforcement officials must be fully documented to specify the purpose of the drone use and the details of what emergency led to its use.
In keeping with the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless search and seizure, The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina was quick to signal its praise for HB312. From a March 14 press release:
“We applaud this bipartisan group of lawmakers for coming together in the interest of protecting privacy rights for all North Carolinians. Across the country, law enforcement agencies are greatly expanding their use of domestic drones to conduct surveillance on citizens, often without any oversight. We urge the North Carolina General Assembly to seize this opportunity to place strong safeguards and regulations on the use of drones, before this technology spreads further in North Carolina.”
HB312 is similar to a bill introduced in Congress two years ago by Senator Rand Paul called “The Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act.” Senator Paul’s bill led to his now-famous 13 hour filibuster on the Senate floor which successfully forced the administration to clarify its drone policy regarding the use of lethal force on U.S. soil.
Since the parliamentary defeat of Senator Paul’s drone bill at the national level, individual states have considered similar bills to ensure protections against warrantless drone surveillance, and the state of Florida has gone so far as to outlaw their use altogether.