Bill would set rules for law enforcement drone use

By: James MacPherson, Associated Press, INFORUM

BISMARCK – University researchers and law enforcement officials are opposing a Bismarck lawmaker’s bill that would require a warrant to use unmanned planes.

Republican Rep. Rick Becker told the House Judiciary Committee on Monday that he introduced the bill because of constituent concerns about privacy rights. He said the issue stems from the use of a drone in the arrest of a Lakota farmer during a 16-hour standoff, an event that spurred national debate over the use of unmanned planes for surveillance.

The freshman lawmaker’s bill would allow law enforcement to use drones if a warrant is obtained during the investigation of a felony crime, or to monitor “an environmental or weather-related catastrophe.” Drones could not be armed with weapons or used to investigate misdemeanor crimes or traffic infractions.

The committee took no action on the measure on Monday.

Becker said his bill was modelled after legislation that’s being considered by the federal government and several other states. He emphasized the measure is not intended to hinder law enforcement or hurt drone research at the University of North Dakota, considered one of the leading schools in developing unmanned aircraft.