Connecticut Lawmakers Consider Limiting Drone Use By Police

Feb 24, 2014

Legislators are considering a proposal to limit drone activity by police.
Credit Baton72/iStock / Thinkstock

State lawmakers heard public testimony Monday afternoon on a bill concerning drones. Next year, the FAA is expected to widely deregulate drone usage, which is leaving many states scrambling to control the technology.

"If I'm walking down a country road, I really don't want to see a dozen drones over my head."
State Sen. John Kissel

The legislation would make it a felony carrying up to 20 years in prison for committing a crime using a drone equipped with a weapon, and up to ten years in prison for other crimes with a drone.

Also at stake: how police use drone technology. Under the proposal, law enforcement could operate drones, but would have to get a warrant for all non-emergency use. David McGuire, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said unregulated drone use will change society. "I'm not trying to bring up those 1984 Orwellian thoughts," he told legislators. "But the idea of drones flying around a downtown area is a creepy one. I think most people in America really value their right to privacy. Even in public places, it would just change the feeling dramatically."

McGuire said drone surveillance differs greatly from helicopters and airplanes. "There's a natural limit on helicopters and planes," he said. "You can't fly them constantly. They're expensive. They need a hanger. They need a pilot. So they are used when they're truly necessary. Whereas this technology, if unregulated, would be used with a lot less discretion, in all likelihood."

Sen. John Kissel, a ranking member of the state's Judiciary Committee, said the move toward requiring warrants is a good one, but he wants the regulations to go even further, extending into the commercial sector.

"Now's the time," Kissel said to McGuire, "that we should really put some thought into what do we want as a society here in Connecticut. Because, I'm with you. If I'm walking down a country road, I really don't want to see a dozen drones over my head. I don't know if they're government sponsored. I don't know if they're private sponsored. It's going to change how we feel about the world that we're living in."

Eight states currently require police to get a warrant before using a drone. The bill now goes to the Judiciary Committee for further consideration.