New curbs on government drone use cleared by House

The state House of Representatives Monday approved legislation that restricts state and local government use of surveillance technologies, including drones, and creates a robust structure protecting personal information.

Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, worked on the bipartisan legislation and said it represents “a huge step forward” in protecting people’s privacy by putting a strong framework of constraint in place prior to government use of so-called extraordinary sensing devices. The bill identifies only one extraordinary sensing device, “unmanned aircraft systems,” or drones. The bill envisions that in the future other technologies could be identified by the Legislature and fit into the framework of this law.

“People in my district are concerned about government use of drones and the potential invasion of privacy,” said Smith. “This bill provides for the proper use of drones, while protecting us from usage that violates our rights.

“Legislators from both sides worked hard to achieve a balance between strong privacy protection and the ability to use this technology for appropriate public safety and resource management missions.”

House Bill 2789 prohibits an agency from operating an extraordinary sensing device or disclosing personal information about any person acquired through the operation of an extraordinary sensing device, except as specifically authorized in the bill. It requires state and local agencies to issue public notices when they buy drones, and requires state agencies to provide regular reports on drone usage to the Office of Financial Management. It restricts agency drone use to criminal investigations authorized by a warrant, search and rescue missions, military training exercises on military bases, and emergency and natural disaster response.

Resource management activities such as wildlife management, forest fire observation and environmental damage are also allowed, but restrictions are put in place regarding the collecting of personal data. Information on criminal activity accidentally collected in these missions can be used in courts. Any agency drone use beyond those parameters is prohibited.

The legislation also leaves room for oversight of surveillance technology beyond drones that will emerge in the future.

The bill, which passed the House on an 83-15 vote, now heads to the state Senate for consideration.


Washington State House Republican Communications