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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Rhode Island's Proposed Drone Law reports on a recent bill proposed in Rhode Island's House of Representatives:

The bill from Democratic state Rep. Teresa Tanzi would require law enforcement agencies to hold public hearings before acquiring a drone aircraft. The agency would need the approval of local leaders, or, in the case of a state agency, the governor. 
Finally, the agency would have to consult with the state attorney general and get court approval before using the drone in specific investigations. Drones would also be prohibited from carrying weapons.
The full text of the bill is available here.

The bill focuses on law enforcement use of drones, and there are very few sections of the bill that seem to apply to private parties. One exception might be 12-5.3-2 (d) which broadly bans the use of weaponized drones.

The bill's restriction on law enforcement's use of drones is a bit restrictive, but seems pretty good overall. The bill would require officers to seek a warrant before using drones, although there are some exceptions to this requirement in emergency situations. The bill would also require prompt deletion of information collected on people who are not the subject of warrants, although I did not see any provision that would govern the retention or deletion of information on individuals who are the subjects of properly-obtained warrants.

One notable part of this bill is 12-5.3-2 (b) which would require a public hearing before a government could obtain a drone. The governor would need to approve the acquisition of a drone for a state agency, while the town or city councils that oversee municipal authorities would need to approve those authorities' acquisition of drones. Different towns may have vastly different opinions on the use of drones, with some towns (like Iowa City) favoring even more stringent restrictions on police use of drone technology. Rhode Island's requirement that a municipalities approve local drone acquisition gives local governments a greater say when it comes to police use of drone technology.

No vote has yet been scheduled on this bill, and as far as I can tell, the bill remains in the House Committee on Judiciary.

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