Police officers using drones in Oklahoma could face jail time under a bill passed by the state House this month.
Sponsored by Republican Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, House Bill 237 requires all law-enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before deploying a surveillance drone in public or private spaces except in certain emergency situations.
Police may use a drone in public as long as it is not “targeted at gathering or producing information
concerning any private individuals or organizations that are using or are present on the land or property.”
Dubbed the “Oklahoma Unmanned Aerial Surveillance Act,” the bill unleashes a slew of new regulations not only in the law-enforcement arena but for most public uses of drones, including for research and mapping. The bill also states that all drone users must comply fully with FAA regulations. Non-law enforcement may collect data so long as it’s not used as evidence in any official capacity. No drone-derived data without a warrant may be used as evidence in court or legislative proceedings. However, police can use warrantless data obtained by UAV in the unlikely event the person grants them permission
If passed by the Oklahoma Senate, violators — including law-enforcement officers – could face six months in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.
Some say the bill goes too far. An editorial in the Oklahoman newspaper opines:
“The benefits of HB 2337 appear to accrue far more to people who break the law than to law-abiding citizens. The bill would burden law enforcement officials with additional red tape even in instances where people are breaking the law in public places where they have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Under this bill, drug cartels could use drone surveillance to track the movement of police in public areas without a warrant, but the police couldn’t do the same thing to drug dealers operating in a public park.”
The bill could potentially hamper police drone operations already underway. This month, the Miami, Okla. first-response team (both police and fire departments) announced the launch of a UAV pilot program that will use their new DJI Inspire drone to pursue high-speed suspects, assess crime, fire and disaster scenes as well as search and rescue.
As the bill makes its way to the Senate, the Oklahoman hopes senators will raise further concerns about its viability.
“Oklahoma has many real problems, but locking up police for investigating crime is not the solution to any of them.”
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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