A push to establish limits in Utah on law enforcement's use of unmanned aerial systems is closer to becoming reality after a Senate panel unanimously approved some restrictions on drones Tuesday.
The Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee voted 5-0 to advance the bill, which requires law enforcement to get a warrant to use drones and limits what data can be collected.
The measure now advances to the full Senate for consideration.The full text of the bill is available here.
The bill's data retention provisions are a good idea, but they are a little vague -- requiring law enforcement agencies to destroy collected data as soon as is "reasonably possible." A bill that requires elimination of the information after a certain amount of time unless there are exceptional circumstances may be more likely to ensure that law enforcement agencies get rid of that information faster.
More notably, the bill requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant in order to collect information with drones unless that information is collected "in accordance with judicially recognized exceptions to warrant requirements."
If Utah's search and seizure law is similar to federal Fourth Amendment law, then this bill will have virtually no impact on law enforcement's ability to collect information using drones. Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement officers can engage in surveillance of people as long as the surveillance practices do not violate reasonable expectations of privacy. Courts have held that this means police officers can fly over people's fenced-in yards in planes or helicopters without a warrant. Law enforcement could presumably do the same thing with a drone and still fall within "judicially recognized exceptions" to the warrant requirement.
This law is admirable for providing guidelines for data retention and police reporting on their use of drones. But the bill does little to limit law enforcement's ability to collect information using drones.