SALEM (AP) — Following several lengthy public debates over the use of domestic drones in Oregon, the state Senate decided Monday to move forward with a plan that would bar law enforcement officers from using unmanned aerial vehicles to collect information except with a warrant or in emergency circumstances.
House Bill 2710 passed on a 23-5 vote. Supporters said it was an important first step in regulating new technology and protecting citizens’ privacy.
“Drone technology shouldn’t enable law enforcement with a tool to circumvent the warrant process,” said Senator Chip Shields, a Portland Democrat and a sponsor of the bill. “That’s why we need this drone legislation to provide citizens with modern safeguards for due process and privacy rights. As drones become more ubiquitous in the future, we will need to ensure that our legal protections keep pace with the use of this technology.”
Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Roseburg Republican, emphasized in his floor speech that this proposal only laid the foundation.
“This will be an issue that the Legislative Assembly will be dealing with probably for the foreseeable future,” said Kruse, who voted for the bill.
He said future legislation could address issues such as private drone use.
Some opponents said there are privacy and legal issues the bill fails to address.
“I believe that there remain internal fatal flaws,” said Sen. Betsy Johnson, a Scappoose Democrat, who voted against the measure.
Johnson questioned the state’s authority to impose certain regulations such as a minimum flight altitude for the drone.
The bill now goes back to the House, which passed the original version and must consider changes the Senate made.
A series of bills were introduced at the start of the session to address the issue of drone technology, and HB 2710 emerged as the comprise plan.
Several public debates on the bills drew passionate testimony on all sides of the debate. Civil liberties advocates sought reassurance that the so-called eyes in the skies wouldn’t be used to spy on Oregonians. Model airplane hobbyists wanted to ensure their pastime was protected. And business owners argued strict regulation would stifle the state’s burgeoning UAV industry.
In its most recent draft, the bill establishes specific circumstances in which law enforcement officers could use a drone.
For example, it authorizes the use of a drone for tracking someone fleeing a crime scene, surveying environmental disasters, assisting with search and rescue operations and reconstructing crime scenes.
The measure prohibits weapons on drones and pre-empts local government regulation of drones.
It establishes criminal penalties for violating personal property or trespassing with a drone. Model airplanes are excluded under the bill.
The legislation also regulates drones owned and operated by public bodies such as universities.
Under the bill, public bodies would have to register their drones with the Oregon Department of Aviation, and would be required to report how they used these drones starting in January 2016.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press