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Limitations on drone use, electronic warrants by law enforcement clear House

The omnibus judiciary and data practices bill would provide important safeguards protecting everyone’s civil liberties by restricting law enforcement surveillance of electronic communication data and evidence-gathering using drones.

That’s the message Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsors the plan with Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), delivered on the House Floor Tuesday before HF3012/SF3072* was passed 131-2.

The bill’s next stop is Gov. Tim Walz. It was passed 66-0 by the Senate May 4.

Under the bill, a law enforcement agency would be required to obtain a search warrant for the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle — or drone — unless an exception applies. Some of those would include:

  • during, or in the aftermath of, an emergency;
  • over a public event where there is heightened risk to the public;
  • to counter the risk of a terrorist attack;
  • to prevent the loss of life and property in natural or man-made disasters;
  • to conduct a threat assessment;
  • to collect information over a public area if there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity;
  • for crash-reconstruction purposes; and
  • for officer training or public relations purposes.

The bill would also prohibit the use of facial recognition technology and data collection at public protests unless authorized by a warrant. It would require a law enforcement agency to document each use of an unmanned aerial vehicle, create a written policy for its use and collect public comment on its use. Drones could not be armed.

 

Warrant rules for electronic data collection

The legislation would require a government entity to obtain a search warrant prior to accessing electronic communication information, such as email and text messages, including the precise or approximate location of a sender or recipient at any point during a cellular communication.

Exceptions would be allowed if a person gives permission to a law enforcement agency to collect the data, or if “exigent circumstances exist where there is a danger to the life or physical safety of an individual.”

Under the bill, law enforcement agencies would have 90 days following the conclusion of an investigation to disclose to the subject of an electronic warrant:

  • the nature of the surveillance investigation;
  • the duration of the surveillance; and
  • whether electronic communication information was collected during the surveillance period.

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