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Minnesota Legislature

Bill to limit police use of drones heads to House Floor

Rules for overseeing public safety from aloft could be forthcoming.

Sponsored by Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), HF3009 would restrict how police use unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, including provisions that law enforcement agencies “must not equip a UAV with weapons.”

The bill, as amended, was approved by the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division Tuesday and referred to the House Floor.

Julia Decker, ACLU-Minnesota policy director testifies Feb. 18 in the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division on HF3009, sponsored by Rep. John Lesch, left, which would regulate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by law enforcement agencies. Photo by Paul Battaglia

“Drones present unique capabilities to surveil people, and right now in Minnesota there are no rules or laws whatsoever about how they are used,” said Lesch.

The bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before using drones to conduct surveillance above public or private spaces unless certain exceptions apply. They include: emergency situations, such as conducting rescue operations following natural or man-made disasters, collecting information when there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, gathering information on a vehicle crash scene, and conducting “a threat assessment in anticipation of a specific event.”

Other provisions would require law enforcement agencies to:

  • get warrants before using UAVs to collect data on public protests or demonstrations;
  • get warrants before deploying UAVs with facial recognition technology; and
  • comply with all Federal Aviation Administration rules on UAVs.

Limits would be put on data law enforcement agencies collect from drone surveillance, specifying that unless the data is part of an active criminal investigation, they must delete data collected by a UAV as soon as possible and no later than seven days after collection.

A civil cause of action would be established for people aggrieved by violations of the law.

Julia Decker, Minnesota policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that her organization worked with Lesch and law enforcement agencies after the 2019 session to alleviate law enforcement concerns the bill would impede legitimate and routine drone use that should not require a warrant.

The companion, SF3074, is sponsored by Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) and awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

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