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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

February 27, 2014 at 10:58 AM

Drone use for law enforcement would require warrant under bill

Drones couldn’t be used for criminal investigation without a warrant, but if a drone collected information about criminal activity during a permitted use, it could be used in court, Rep. David Taylor, a Moxee Republican and prime sponsor of House Bill 2789, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee at a Wednesday hearing.

The bill would require state agencies to receive approval from their governing bodies before procuring drones and to obtain warrants for most uses.

Drones could be used for non-law-enforcement purposes, such as wildlife management, habitat preservation and environmental-damage assessment.

Passed 83-15 in the state House, the bill draws policy points from a drone bill stalled last year and House Bill 2178, which would ban the use of drones above private property without permission from owners.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, had concerns about a provision that would require drones to be viewable from the ground.

“I hope this doesn’t apply to law enforcement,” he said at the hearing. Drones, when used by law enforcement with a warrant, are intended to be a form of surveillance that isn’t viewable, he said.

Taylor said he plans to clear up the provision with an amendment.

Committee chair Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, asked sponsors to have the amendment ready Thursday.

Nine states have laws regulating drone use. Wisconsin lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it a crime to use a drone with audio or video recording in areas where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

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