Florida Moves Closer To Banning Surveillance By Police Drones
|MDPD has never actually used its T-Hawk drone, and some lawmakers want to keep it that way.|
MDPD still has yet to actually use either of its drones, and now the Florida Senate has moved closer to banning all surveillance by police drones.
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"Drones are fine to kill terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they shouldn't be used to monitor the lawful activities of Floridians," Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican behind the bill, tells the AP.
The bill wouldn't outright ban police drones, but it would ban police from gathering "evidence or other information" with unmanned aircraft, make any info captured by drones inadmissible in court, and give residents power to sue departments that break the rule.
Negron's bill easily passed the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee this week with support from other Republicans worried about the privacy implications of police drones.
Truth is, FAA rules have already hamstrung MDPD -- the only agency in the state that actually owns unmanned surveillance aircraft -- to the point that it's never had a chance to actually use its drones.
The department got two T-Hawk drones in December 2010, one with a Homeland Security grant and the other through an annual $1 lease from maker Honeywell.
Pilots have actively trained to use the device, which looks more or less like a hovering trash can, but FAA rules are strict: They can only fly it below 300 feet, outside city limits, during the day and within sight of the operator.
MDPD could only dream up one realistic scenario within those guidelines: Someone armed and holed up in a rural building. Police hoped the drones might help keep sight of the suspect without putting anyone at risk of getting shot.
The new bill wouldn't expressly forbid that use, but any evidence gathered in the process wouldn't be usable in court and the department could open itself up to a lawsuit afterward.
That sounds just fine to the ACLU, which backs Negron's bill.
"Technology has pushed us into a new frontier in privacy and the principals behind Sen. Negron's bill establish guideposts for how to keep Floridians both safe and free in this new era," Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU Florida, tells AP.
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