Law Enforcement, Higher Ed Oppose Drone Bill


Rep. Rick Becker is sponsoring HB1373, which would regulate the use of surveillance drones in North Dakota by requiring that law enforcement get a warrant before using them as part of a criminal investigation.

The bill got a hearing before the Judiciary Committee today where law enforcement and higher education officials showed up to oppose the bill. Rep. Becker was gracious enough to talk a little with me about what their objections to the bill are:

According to Becker, law enforcement argues that this bill will hinder their ability to use drones effectively for legitimate public safety reasons. But Becker points out that there are exceptions in the law to allow for the use of drones in exigent circumstances, such as searching for a missing person or responding to a natural disaster. He also wonders why it’s such a burden to law enforcement to get a warrant before using the drones as a part of a criminal investigation.

Also, a representative from the University of North Dakota testified against the bill arguing that it might put their federal research grants in jeopardy. UND, with assistance from Senator John Hoeven, is host to a unmanned aerial vehicle “center of excellence” where they research the technology. UND feels this bill may signal that the State of North Dakota is hostile to drones, but Becker this morning submitted an amended version of his bill providing an exemption for drone research.

At this point, there is a push to delay this bill for two years by putting it out for study, but Rep. Becker says that’s unnecessary. “What are they going to study?” he asked me.

Good question, but the question may not be “what are they going to study” so much as how long they can delay in order to establish drone use in law enforcement practice and make any common sense limitations harder to implement.

Update: Here’s a report on the committee hearing from the AP:

Jerry Kemmet of the North Dakota Peace Officers Association opposes the idea and called for more study. He says banning the use of drones limits law enforcement.

University of North Dakota Vice President for Research Phyllis Johnson also opposed the bill. Johnson says the legislation could have a negative impact on drone research at UND. She says it may prevent the university from being selected as 1 of 6 national test sites under consideration by the federal government.

Mr. Kemmet is flat-out wrong. The use of drones wouldn’t be “banned,” it would be regulated. Law enforcement would have to get a warrant. What’s so bad about that?

As for UND, there is now an amendment to the bill to specifically allow the sort of research they’d be conducting.