House committee approves bill regulating unmanned drones

By | February 21, 2013 | Comments

A bill that would regulate the use of unmanned aircraft by government agencies cleared its first hurdle Thursday, passing out of the House Public Safety Committee.

House Bill 1771, sponsored by Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee) is intended to create clear policy surrounding the use of drones, which have come under fire by privacy rights advocates. Last month, Seattle officials decided to shut down their police department’s unmanned drone program following a public hearing that drew vocal opposition to the plan.

One of the main sticking points for those opposed to the legislation and its companion bill (Senate Bill 5782) is a requirement that officials obtain authorization or a search warrant when deploying drowns.

Mitch Barker with the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs told committee members that the regulations should be decided by the courts, not the Legislature.

“This bill goes very far in a lot of directions that we don’t fundamentally agree with philosophically. If we head down this path we’ll be back here every year with a new piece of technology,” he said.

Others opposed to the bill voiced concerns about the ability to use drones for non-police activity like wildlife tracking, fire suppression and search and rescue efforts.

Supporters of the legislation say the unregulated use of drones represents an attack on the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure as outlined in the Fourth Amendment.

“You know when there’s a cop in a helicopter above you. But you don’t necessarily know if there’s a dragonfly-size drone outside your window,” said Shankar Narayan of the ACLU of Washington.

The bill passed on a 9-1 vote. Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle) was lone “no” vote on the bill. It now moves on to the House Rules Committee where it will be considered for a floor debate and vote.

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